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Part I of Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies, or, 
The Journal of a Santa Fe Trader, i 831 -1839 

Reprint of chapters i-xi of Volume I of the second edition: 
New York, 1845 









SfUnslroleb will) iXlops aitb (SnjraDinge. 





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1844, by 


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of 

New York. 


The favor with which the public has received the ' ^Com- 
merce oj the Prairies, ^^ and through which an unusually large 
edition has already been exhausted, induces the author to 
believe that a second edition at this time wiU not be esteemed 
premature. He has therefore embraced the opportunity 
to make some additions and improvements in the body of 
the work, the most important of which consist in such alter- 
ations and notes as appeared necessary to bring its infor- 
mation down to the present period, and which are calculated 
in some degree to enhance whatever of merit or value his 
previous labors might be thought to possess. 

With a view of facilitating reference, a copious analytical 
index has been prepared for this edition, with considerable 
care — intended to embrace every topic of interest touched 
upon in its pages, and which, it is hoped, will not be esteemed 
altogether an unimportant addition. 

The frequent use of Spanish words and phrases, which 
the nature of his subjects has made it convenient for the 
author to resort to, may have proved a serious inconvenience 
to some of his readers who are ignorant of the Spanish 
language. By the advice of his publisher, therefore, he has 
prepared a brief glossary, which he has placed at the end 
of the first volume,* because that volume contains nearly all 
the words requiring any definition. 

Since the publication of the first edition of this work, a 
new and interesting event in the history of the Santa Fe 
trade has come to the author's knowledge, which, from its 
nature and importance, he cannot forbear alluding to in 

^ This glossary is placed at the cad of our volume xx. — Ed. 

1 6o Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

this connection. On page 165 of the second volume, a brief 
allusion is made to the rich trade of the more [iv] southern 
provinces of Northern Mexico, which, the author then 
thought, might to a degree be secured to us, through the 
aid of a drawback on merchandise exported across the 
Great Western Prairies. He has since had the satisfaction 
of learning that already have his anticipations been partially 
realized. Even without any governmental assistance, our 
enterprising merchants are beginning to extend their trade 
into the Departments of Durango, Zacatecas, and even 
further south. Last year, a large amount of goods intro- 
duced at Santa Fe, found their way to the Feria de San Juan 
(some 800 miles south of Chihuahua, and nearly 1400 from 
Santa Fe), and were sold to advantage. When our mer- 
chandise can thus successfully compete, through such an 
extent of the richest interior of Northern Mexico, with the 
importations via the ports on the Mexican Gulf, and the 
Pacific Ocean, a new market is opened, which ten times 
the amount ever taken across the Prairies in one season 
could not overstock: nay, ten millions a year would not 
suffice to supply. 

The author desires to express his gratitude to the Press, 
and to the public generally, for the indulgence with which 
the "Commerce of the Prairies^^ has been received; and he 
ventures to hope that the care and labor bestowed upon this 
new edition may render his labors in some measure more 
worthy of the consideration they have already received. 
September, 1845. 


In adding another to the list of works which have al- 
ready been published, appearing to bear more or less directly 
upon the subject matter of these volumes, I am aware that 
my labors make their appeal to the public under serious 
disadvantages. Topics which have occupied the pens of 
Irving and Murray and Hoffman,^ and more recently, of 
Kendall, the graphic historiographer of the "Texan Santa 
Fe Expedition," may fairly be supposed to have been so 
entirely exhausted, that the entrance of a new writer in 
the lists, whose name is wholly unknown to the republic 
of letters, and whose pretensions are so humble as mine, 
may be looked upon as an act of literary hardihood, for 
which there was neither occasion nor excuse. In view of 

' After his return from Spain in the spring of 1832, Washington Irving made 
an extended tour through the western and southern states, accompanying Indian 
treaty commissioners to Fort Gibson, on the Arkansas. The account is embodied 
in his Tour 0} the Prairies, one of the "Crayon Miscellany," published in Phila- 
delphia in 1835. 

Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, grandson of Lord Dunmore the last colonial 
governor of Virginia, and himself master of the queen's household, came to the 
United States in 1834, and spent two years in its borders; passing one simimer 
among the Pawnee, west of the Missouri. His experiences were embodied in 
Travels in the United States (London, 1839), a work, abounding in charm and 
presenting a favorable view of his American cousins, with enthusiastic accounts 
of prairie life. 

Charles Fenno Hoffman, of a distinguished New York family, made in 1833-34 
a western journey, which he described in his first book, A Winter in the West 
(New York and London, 1835). Hoffman crossed from Detroit to Chicago, and 
he entertainingly describes the early society of the latter place. Thence he pro- 
ceeded to Galena and Prairie du Chien, then down the Mississippi to St. Louis, 
and home via Cincinnati; he thus did not visit the great western plains, which 
Gregg is herein to describe. The Ufe thereon, however, fired Hoffman's imagina- 
tion, and from reports of others he issued in 1839 WUd Scenes in Forest and Prairie, 
comprising Indian legends and adventures on the plains. — Ed. 

1 62 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

this ''foregone conclusion," I trust I may be pardoned for 
prefacing my literary offering with a few words in its justi- 
fication, — which will afford me an occasion to explain the 
circumstances that first led to my acquaintance with life 
upon the Prairies and in Northern Mexico. 

For some months preceding the year 1831, my health 
had been gradually declining under a complication of 
[vi] chronic diseases, which defied every plan of treatment 
that the sagacity and science of my medical friends could 
devise. This morbid condition of my system, which ori- 
ginated in the familiar miseries of dyspepsia and its kindred 
infirmities, had finally reduced me to such a state, that, for 
nearly a twelvemonth, I was not only disqualified for any 
systematic industry, but so debilitated as rarely to be able 
to extend my walks beyond the narrow precincts of my 
chamber. In this hopeless condition, my physicians ad- 
vised me to take a trip across the Prairies, and, in the change 
of air and habits which such an adventure would involve, 
to seek that health which their science had failed to bestow. 
I accepted their suggestion, and, without hesitation, pro- 
ceeded at once to make the necessary preparations for joining 
one of those spring Caravans which were annually starting 
from the United States, for Santa Fe. 

The effects of this journey were in the first place to re- 
establish my health, and, in the second, to beget a passion 
for Prairie life which I never expect to survive. At the 
conclusion of the season which followed my first trip, I 
became interested as a proprietor in the Santa Fe Trade, 
and continued to be so, to a greater or less extent, for the 
eight succeeding years. During the whole of the above 
periods I crossed the Prairies eight different times; and, 
with the exception of the time thus spent in travelling to 
and fro, the greater part of the nine years of which I speak, 
were passed in Northern Mexico. 

183 1 -1 83 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 163 

Having been actively engaged and largely interested in 
the commerce of that country and across the Prairies, for 
so long a period, I feel that I have at least had opportunities 
[vii] for observation, upon the subjects of which I have 
ventured to treat, superior to those enjoyed by any writers 
who have preceded me. But not even an attempt has 
before been made to present any full account of the origin 
of the Santa Fe Trade and modes of conducting it; nor of 
the early history and present condition of the people of 
New Mexico; nor of the Indian tribes by which the wild 
and unreclaimed regions of that department are inhabited. 
I think I may also assure my readers that most of the facts 
presented in my sketch of the natural history of the Prai- 
ries, and of the Indian tribes who inhabit them, are now 
published for the first time. As I have not sought to make 
a treatise upon these subjects, I have not felt compelled, 
for the purpose of giving my papers symmetry and com- 
pleteness, to enter to any extent upon grounds which have 
already been occupied by other travellers; but have con- 
tented myself with presenting such matters and observa- 
tions as I thought least likely to have come before under the 
notice of my readers. 

I am perfectly sensible, however, that, in the selection 
of matter, and in the execution of my work, it is very far 
from being what it should be, and what, in more capable 
hands, it might have been. I only trust, that, with all its 
imperfections, it may be found to contain some new and not 
unimportant facts, which may be thought, in some measure, 
to justify my appearance for once in the capacity of a book- 
maker; for which vocation, in all other respects, I am free 
to confess myself very poorly qualified. 

This work has been prepared chiefly from a journal 
which I have been in the habit of keeping from my youth 
[viii] upward, and in which I was careful to preserve memo- 

164 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

randa of my observations while engaged in the Santa Fe 
Trade, — though without the remotest intention of ever ap- 
propriating them to the present purpose. In addition, how- 
ever, I have embraced every opportunity of procuring au- 
thentic information through others, upon such matters as 
were beyond my own sphere of observation. From materials 
thus collected I have received much assistance in the prep- 
aration of the chapters from the sixth to the fifteenth 
inclusive, of the first volume, which are chiefly devoted to 
the early history of New Mexico, and the manners, customs 
and institutions of its people. For favors thus conferred, 
I beg in particular to make my acknowledgments to Elisha 
Stanley, Esq., and Doctors Samuel B. Hobbs and David 
Waldo, whose names have been long and favorably asso- 
ciated with the Santa Fe Trade.^ 

Though myself cradled and educated upon the Indian 
border, and familiar with the Indian character from my 
infancy, I am yet greatly indebted, for information upon 
that subject, to many intelligent Indian traders, and others 
resident upon our border, with whose ample experience I 
have been frequently favored. 

Yet, while I recognize my indebtedness to others, I feel 
bound, in self-defence, to reclaim in a single case, at least, 
the wails of my own pen, which have been dignified with 
a place in the pages of a cotemporary writer. During the 
years 1841 and 1842, I contributed a number of letters 
upon the history and condition of the Santa Fe Trade, etc., 

^ Dr. David Waldo came to Missouri from Virginia in 1826. Seeking the 
pineries of Gasconade River, he cut timber sufl&cient to form a raft, floated it to 
St. Louis, and with the money realized from its sale went to Lexington, Kentucky, 
and ^udied medicine at Transylvania University. Returning to Missouri, he 
made his home on the Gasconade, where he became the most prominent citizen 
of the new country, serving as clerk of the courts, justice of the peace, deputy 
sheriff, county coroner, major of militia, postmaster, and practicing physician. 
In 1831 he embarked in the fur-trade with David Jackson, and later took an 
outfit to Santa Fe, and for thirty years was connected with western trade. — Ed. 

183 1 -1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 165 

to the Galveston ''Daily Advertiser" and the "Arkansas 
Intelligencer," under the signatures of "J. G." and "G.," 
[ix] portions of which I have had occasion to insert in the 
present volumes. In Captain Marryat's recent work, 
entitled "Monsieur Violet," I was not a little annoyed 
(when I presume I ought to have been flattered) to find 
large portions of this correspondence copied, much of it 
verbatim, without the slightest intimation or acknowledg- 
ment whatever, of the source from whence they were pro- 
cured. The public are already so familiar with the long 
series of literary larcenies of which that famous work was 
the product, that I should not have presumed to empha- 
size my own grievance at all here, but that the appearance 
of the same material, frequently in the same words, in these 
volumes, might, unless accompanied by some explanation, 
expose me to a charge of plagiarism myself, among those 
who may never have seen my original letters, or who are 
not yet aware that ' 'Monsieur Violet" was an offering which 
had evidently been intended for the altar of Mercury rather 
than of Minerva.* 

In my historical sketches of New Mexico, it might have 
been naturally expected that some notice would be taken 
of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841, the events of 

* The Galveston Daily Advertiser was owned by A. J. Yates, and published 
after November i, 1841. No file is known to exist. 

The Arkansas Intellige^icer was established at Little Rock by the Jacksonian 
Democrats, in order to support Governor John Pope (1829-35). John Steele 
was the first editor-in-chief. 

Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was born in London of Huguenot 
ancestry. After an adventurous career in the British navy (1806-30), he resigned, 
and devoted himself to literary work. In 1837 and 1838 he visited the United 
States, and as a result pubHshed A Diary in America (London, 1839). The 
Travels and Adventures of Monsieur Violet among the Snake Indians and Wild 
Tribes of the great Western Prairies (London, 1843), is a loose compilation of fact 
and fiction, in three volumes. The parts plagiarized from Gregg are in volimie 
i, chapter xiii. Kendall (see following note) also complains in his preface of 
Marryat's plagiarizing whole chapters from his work. — Ed. 

1 66 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

which are so closely connected with the history of that 
country. I declined, however, to enter upon the topic; 
for I considered that none who had seen Mr. Kendall's 
account of that ill-fated enterprise, would have any induce- 
ment to consult these pages upon the subject; and for 
those who had not, I felt sure the best thing I could do, was 
to direct their attention at once to its attractive pages.^ 

The maps which accompany the present work will be 
found, I believe, substantially correct; or more so, at least, 
[x] than any others, of those regions, which have been pub- 
lished. They have been prepared, for the most part, from 
personal observations. Those portions of the country which 
I have not been able to observe myself, have chiefly been 
laid down from manuscript maps kuidly furnished me by 
experienced and reliable traders and trappers, and also 
from the maps prepared under the supervision of United 
States surveyors.® 

The arrangement I have adopted seems to require a word 
of explanation. That the reader may the better understand 
the frequent notices, in the course of my personal narrative, 
of the Santa Fe Trade, the j&rst chapter has been devoted 
to the development of its early history. And, though the 

* Advices having been received by the Texan president that the inhabitants 
of Santa Fe and vicinity wished to join the Lone Star republic, the Texas-Nevs^ 
Mexican expedition was set on foot in the spring of 1841. The Texans had (1836) 
declared the Rio Grande as their boundary, but had taken no jurisdiction over 
the New Mexican province. The expedition was accompanied by a number of 
merchants, and was ostensibly for the purpose of trade. Its military commandant 
was General Hugh McLeod, and while furthered by the ofl&cials of Texas, was 
unauthorized by its congress. Upon reaching New Mexican borders, the inhabi- 
tants were found in arms, and the entire movement proved a failure. George 
Wilkins Kendall, a New Orleans editor who accompanied the expedition as a 
guest, became its historian. In his Narrative 0} the Texan Santa Fe Expedition 
(New York, 1844), he vividly describes the adventvires and fate of its promoters, 
and the wanton cruelty and harshness of the Mexicans. — Ed. 

' Gregg's map, somewhat enlarged, appeared in Morse's North American Atlas 
pubUshed by Harpers Brothers in 1842. Elhott Coues commends it as the best 
map of the period, for the region concerned. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 167 

results of my observations in Northern Mexico and upon 
the Prairies, as well as on the border, are sometimes inter- 
spersed through the narrative, I have, to a great degree, 
digested and arranged them into distinct chapters, occupy- 
ing from the sixth to the fifteenth inclusive, of the first 
volume, and the seven last chapters, of the second. This 
plan was resorted to with a view of giving greater com- 
pactness to the work, and relieving the journal, as far as pos- 
sible, from cumbrous details and needless repetitions. 

J. G. 

New Yorli, June 12, 1844. 



Origin and progressive Development of the Santa Fe Trade — 
Captain Pike's Narrative — Pursley — La Lande — Expe- 
dition of McKnight and others — Glenn — Becknell — 
Cooper — Sufferings of Captain Becknell and his Com- 
panions — First Introduction of wheeled Vehicles — Colonel 
Marmaduke — HostiUty of the Indians — Recriminations 
— Indian Ethics — Increase of Outrages — Major Riley's 
Escort — Annoyed by the Indians — Government Protec- 
tion — Composition of a Caravan, . . . . 173 


Head Quarters of the Santa Fe Trade — Independence and its 
Locale — A Prairie Trip an excellent Remedy for chronic 
Diseases — Supphes for the Journey — Wagons, Mules 
and Oxen — Art of Loading Wagons — Romancing Pro- 
pensity of Travellers — The Departure — Storms and 
Wagon-covers — Quagmires — Tricks of marauding In- 
dians — Council Grove — Fancy versus ReaUty — Election- 
eering on the Prairies — The Organization — Amateur 
Travellers and Loafers — Duties of the Watch — Costumes 
and Equipment of the Party — Timbers for the Journey, 187 


The ' Catch up ' — Breaking up of the Encampment — Perversity 
of Mules — Under Way — The Diamond Spring — Ec- 
centricities of Oxen — First Glance of the Antelope — Buf- 
falo Herds and Prairie Novices — A John Gilpin Race — 
CuHnary Preparations — A Buffalo Feast — Appetite of [xii] 
Prairie Travellers — Troubles in Fording Streams — Fresh 
Alarms and their Causes — A Wolfish FroUc — Arkansas 
River — Pleasing Scenery — Character of the Country — 
Extraordinary Surgical Operation — The ' Pawnee Rock ' — 
Salutary Efi'ects of Alarms — New Order of March — 
Prairie Encampment and ' Upholstery ' — HoppUng and 
Tethering of the ' Stock ' — Crossing the Arkansas — Great 
Battle with Rattlesnakes — A Mustang Colt and a Mule 
Fracas — ' The Caches ' — Their Origin, and Signification 
of the Term, 202 

I JO Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 


A Desert Plain — Preparation for a 'Water-Scrape' — Accident 
to a French Doctor — Upsetting of a Wagon and its Conse- 
quences — A Party of Sioux Warriors — The first real 
Alarm — Confusion in the Camp — Friendly Demonstra- 
tions of the Indians — The Pipe of Peace — Squaws and 
Papooses — An Extemporary Village — Lose our Track — 
Search after the Lost River — Horrible Prospective — The 
Cimarron Found at last — A Night of Alarms — Indian 
Serenade and Thieving — Indian Diplomacy — Hail-stone« 
and Hurricanes — Position of the Captain of a Caravan — 
His Troubles, his Powers and Want of Powers — More 
Indians — Hostile Encounter — Results of the Skirmish — 

— The ' Battle-Ground ' — Col. Vizcarra and the Gros 
Ventres, 218 


A Beautiful Ravine — ' Runners ' Starting for Santa Fe — Fourth 
of July on the Prairies — The Cibolero or Buflfalo-hunter — 
Mournful News of Captain Sublette's Company — Murder 
of Captain Smith and another of the Party by the Indians — 
Carelessness and Risks of Hunters — Captain Sublette's 
Peril — Character and Pursuits of the Ciboleros — The Art 
of Curing Meat — Purity of the Atmosphere — The * Round 
Mound ' — The Mirage or False Ponds — Philosophy thereof 

— Extensive and Interesting View -^ Exaggerated Accounts 
by Travellers of the Buffalo of the Prairies — Their De- 
crease — A ' Stampede ' — Wagon Repairing — Rio Colorado 
or Canadian River — Meeting between old Friends — 
Mexican Escort — Disorganizing of the Caravan — Dread- 
ful Thunder-storm — First Symptoms of Civilization — 
San Miguel — Arrival at Santa Fe — Entry of the Caravan 

— First Hours of Recreation — Interpreters and Custom- 
house Arrangements — A Glance at the Trade, etc., . 232 

[xiii] CHAPTER VI 

Sketches of the Early History of Santa Fe — First Explorations 

— Why called New Mexico — Memorial of Onate — His 
Colony — Captain Leyva's prior Settlement — Singular 
Stipulations of Onate — Incentives presented by the Crown 
to Colonizers — Enormities of Spanish Conquerors — Pro- 
gress of the new Colony — Cruel Labors of the Aborigines in 
the Mines — Revolt of the Indians in 1680 — Massacre of 
the Spaniards — Santa Fe Besieged — Battles — Remaining 
Spanish Population finally evacuate the Province — Paso del 

183 1 -1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 171 

Norte — Inhuman Murder of a Spanish Priest — Final 
Recovery of the Country — Insurrection of 1837 — A proph- 
ecy — Shocking Massacre of the Governor and other 
distinguished Characters — American Merchants, and Neg- 
lect of our Government — Governor Armijo : his Intrigues 
and Success — Second Gathering of Insurgents and their 
final Defeat, 257 


Geographical Position of New Mexico — Absence of navigable 
Streams — The Rio del Norte — Romantic Chasm — Story 
of a sunken River — Mr. Stanley's Excursion to a famous 
Lake — Santa Fe and its Localities — El Valle de Taos and 
its Fertility — Soil of New Mexico — The first Settler at 
Taos and his Contract with the Indians — Salubrity and 
Pleasantness of the Climate of New Mexico — Population 

— State of Agriculture — Staple Productions of the Country 

— Corn-fields and Fences — Irrigation and Acequias — 
Tortillas and Tortilleras — Atole, Frijoles and Chile — 
Singular Custom — Culinary and Table Affairs — Flax and 
Potato indigenous — Tobacco and Punche — Fruits — Pecu- 
liar Mode of cultivating the Grape — Forest Growths — 
Pinon and Mezquite — Mountain Cottonwood — Palmilla 

or Soap-plant — Pasturage, 277 


The Mines of New Mexico — Supposed Concealment of them by 
the Indians — Indian Superstition and Cozenage — Ruins 
of La Gran Quivira — Old Mines — Placeres or Mines of 
Gold Dust — Speculative Theories — Mode of Working the 
Placeres — Manners and Customs of the Miners — Ar- 
bitrary Restrictions of the Mexican Government upon For- 
eigners — Persecution of a Gachupin — Disastrous Effect 
of official Interference upon the Mining Interest — Disre- 
gard of American Rights and of the U. States Government 
[xiv] — Gambucinos and their System — Gold found through- 
out New Mexico — Silver Mines — Copper, Zinc and Lead 

— Salinas or Salt Lakes — Sulphurous Springs — Gypsum, 

and Petrified Trees, 299 


Indifference on the Subject of Horse-breeding — Caballos de Silla 

— Popularity and Usefulness of the Mule — Mode of har- 
nessing and lading Mules for a Journey — Arrieros and their 
System — The Mulera or Bell-mare — Surprising Feats of 

172 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

the Muleteers and Vaqueros — The Lazo and its Uses — 
Ridiculous Usages of the Country in regard to the Ownership 
of Animals — Anecdote of a Mexican Colonel — The Burro 
or domestic Ass and its Virtues — Shepherds and their Habits 

— The Itinerant Herds of the Plains — Sagacity of the Shep- 
herd's Dog — The Sheep Trade — Destruction of Cattle by 
the Indians — Philosophical Notions of the Marauders — 
Excellent Mutton — Goats and their Utility — Wild Animals 
and their Character — A ' Bear Scrape ' — Wolves, Panthers, 
Wild Birds and Reptiles — The Honey-bee, etc., . . 312 


Condition of the Arts and Sciences in New Mexico — Neglect of 
Education — Primary Schools — Geographical Ignorance 

— Female Accomphshments — Imported Refinements — 
Peculiarities of Language, etc. — Condition of the PubUc 
Press — State of Medical Science — The Mechanical Arts 

— Carpentry and Cabinet Work — State of Architecture — 
DweUing Houses and their PecuHarities — Rustic Furniture 

— Curiously constructed Vehicles — Manufacture of Blankets 

— Other Fabrics — Want of Machinery. . . . 329 


Style of Dress in New Mexico — Riding-dress of the Caballero 

— Horse Trappings — The Rebozo — Passion for Jewelry — 
Apparel of the Female Peasantry — 'Wheeled Tarantulas' 

— General Appearance of the People — Tawny Complexion 

— Singular Mode of Painting the Human Face — Striking 
Traits of Character — Alms-giving — Beggars and their 
Tricks — Wonderful Cure of Paralysis — Lack of Arms and 
Officers — Traits of Boldness among the Yeomanry — PoUte- 
ness and Suavity of the Mexicans — Remarks of Mr. Poinsett 

— Pecuharities observed in Epistolary Intercourse — Saluta- 
tions — La Siesta 339 



Origin and progressive Development of the Santa F6 Trade — Captain 
Pike's Narrative — Pursley — La Lande — Expedition of McKnight 
and others — Glenn — Becknell — Cooper — Sufferings of Captain 
Becknell and his Companions — First Introduction of v^^heeled 
Vehicles — Colonel Marmaduke — Hostility of the Indians — Re- 
criminations — Indian Ethics — Increase of Outrages — Major 
Riley's Escort — Annoyed by the Indians — Government Protection 
— Composition of a Caravan. 

The overland trade between the United States and the 
northern provinces of Mexico, seems to have had no very 
definite origin; having been rather the result of accident 
than of any organized plan of commercial establishment. 
For a number of years its importance attracted no attention 
whatever. From Captain Pike's narrative we learn, that 
one James Pursley, after much wandering over the wild and 
then unexplored regions west of the Mississippi, finally fell 
in with some Indians on the Platte river, near its source in 
the Rocky Mountains; and obtaining information from 
them respecting the settlements [i8] of New Mexico, he set 
out in company with a party of these savages, and descended, 
in j8p5^ to Santa Fe, where he remained for several years — 
perhaps till his death.' It does not appear, however, that 
he took with him any considerable amount of merchandise. 

' Our knowledge of James Pursley is chiefly derived from the journals of 
Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, who met him in Santa F^, and relates his adventures. 
Coming from Bardstown, Kentucky, to Missouri (1799), he set out on a hunting 
and trapping expedition in the spring of 1802 toward the sources of the Osage. 
There being robbed of his horses, he descended to the Missouri in a canoe, in 
time to join a party going up the river in search of trade. Going among the Paduca 
and Kiowa tribes, a sudden Sioux raid drove them into the mountains. The 
Indians sent Pursley to the neighboring Spanish settlements, to arrange for trade. 

174 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

Although Captain Pike speaks of Pursley as the first 
American that ever crossed the desert plains into the Spanish 
provinces, it is nevertheless related by the same writer, that, 
in consequence of information obtained by the trappers, 
through the Indians, relative to this isolated province, a 
merchant of Kaskaskia, named Morrison,^ had already 
dispatched, as early as 1804, a French Creole, by the name 
of La Lande, up Platte river, with directions to push his 
way into Santa Fe, if the passage was at all practicable. 
The ingenious emissary was perfectly successful in his 
enterprise; but the kind and generous treatment of the 
natives overcame at once his patriotism and his probity- 
He neither returned to his employer nor accounted for the 
proceeds of his adventure. His expansive intellect readily 
conceived the advantages of setting up in business for him- 
self upon this 'borrowed' capital; which he accordingly 
did, and remained there, not only unmolested, but honored 
and esteemed till his death, which occurred some fifteen or 
twenty years afterward — leaving a large family, and 
sufficient property to entitle him to the fame of rico among 
his neighbors.^ 

Glad to be once more among civilized people, the wanderer remained at Santa 
Fe pl}ing his trade of caq^enter, where Pike found him. Our only further knowl- 
edge is a notice in the Missouri Intelligencer (April lo, 1824), of a James Purcell 
lately returned from Santa Fe, where he had been a citizen for nineteen years. 
H. M. Chittenden conjectures that Purcell is the correct spelling of the name; 
History 0} American Fur-Trade (New York, 1902), ii, p. 493. — Ed. 

' WiUiam Morrison, a native of Pennsylvania, came to Kaskaskia in 1790, 
and embarked in a large mercantile business. With an uncle, who remained in 
Philadelphia, he founded the firm of Bryant and Morrison, which operated widely 
throughout IlHnois and Upper Louisiana, maintaining a fleet of large boats plying 
between Pittsburg and New Orleans. Morrison built (i8oi) a large stone house 
at Kaskaskia, which during its owner's Ufe was a centre of hospitahty, and where 
he died in April, 1837. — Ed. 

" Baptiste Lalande was probably born in Illinois, as his name appears among 
the list of St. Clair County militia in 1790. Alexander Lalande was head of a 
Kaskaskia family, and by 1783 had taken the oath of allegiance to the United 
States. One of Pike's ostensible errands at Santa Fe was to recover for Morri- 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 175 

The Santa Fe trade attracted very little notice, [19] how- 
ever, until the return of Captain Pike,^° whose exciting 
descriptions of the new El Dorado spread like wildfire 
throughout the western country. In 181 2, an expedition 
was fitted out under the auspices of Messrs. McKnight, 
Beard, Chambers, and several others (in all about a dozen), 
who, following the directions of Captain Pike across the 
dreary western wilds, finally succeeded in reaching [20] 

son's firm from this renegade trader. Lalande,' however, sought the American 
oflBcer, in the capacity of a spy from the Mexican government; after being discov- 
ered, he was declared too poor to pay Morrison's claim. Jose Augustin de Escu- 
dero, in his Noticias Historicas (Mexico, 1849), says that on Lalande's death he 
left much property and many descendants. — Ed. 

'* This celebrated officer, who was afterwards promoted to the rank of General, 
and died in the achievement of the glorious victory at York, Upper Canada, in 
1813, was sent, in 1806, on an exploring expedition up the Arkansas, with in- 
structions to pass to the sources of Red River, for which those of the Canadian 
were then mistaken. Captain Pike, however, even passed around the head of 
the latter; and, crossing the mountain with an almost incredible degree of peril 
and suffering, he descended upon the Rio del Norte with his little party, then but 
fifteen in number. BeUeving himself now upon Red River, within the then as- 
sumed bounds of the United States, he erected a small fortification for his com- 
pany, till the opening of the spring of 1807 should enable him to continue his 
descent to Natchitoches. As he was within the Mexican territory, however, and 
but sixty to eighty miles from the northern settlements, his position was soon dis- 
covered, and a force sent out to take him into Santa Fe, which, by a treacherous 
manoeuvre, was effected without opposition. The Spanish officer assured him 
that the Governor, learning he had missed his way, had sent animals and an escort 
to convey his men and baggage to a navigable point on Red River (Rio Colorado), 
and that his Excellency desired very much to see him at Santa Fe, which might 
be taken on their way. As soon, however, as the Governor had Captain Pike in 
his power, he sent him with his men to the Commandant General at Chihuahua, 
where most of his papers were seized, and he and his party were sent under an 
escort, via San Antonio de Bexar, to the United States. 

The narrative of Captain Pike gives a full account of this expedition, both 
previous and subsequent to its interruption by the Spaniards; but as this work is 
now rarely met with, the foregoing note may not be deemed altogether supereroga- 
tory. Many will beheve and assert to the present day, however, that this expedi- 
tion had some connection with the famous project of Aaron Burr; yet the noble 
and patriotic character of the officer who conducted it, will not permit us to coun- 
tenance such an aspersion. — Gregg. 

Comment by Ed. Consult on this point the evidence offered by Elliott Coues, 
Expeditions of Zebulon M. Pike (New York, 1895), ii, pp. 499, 565, 571. 

176 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

Santa Fe in safety. But these new adventurers were des- 
tined to experience trials and disappointments of which 
they had formed no conception. BeHeving that the declara- 
tion of Independence by Hidalgo, in 1810, had completely 
removed those injurious restrictions which had hitherto 
rendered all foreign intercourse, except by special permis- 
sion from the Spanish Government, illegal, they were wholly 
unprepared to encounter the embarrassments with which 
despotism and tyranny invariably obstruct the path of the 
stranger. They were doubtless ignorant that the patriotic 
chief Hidalgo had already been arrested and executed, that 
the royalists had once more regained the ascendency, and 
that all foreigners, but particularly Americans, were now 
viewed with unusual suspicion." The result was that the 
luckless traders, immediately upon their arrival, were seized 
as spies, their goods and chattels confiscated, and them- 
selves thrown into the calahozos of Chihuahua, where most 
of them were kept in rigorous confinement for the space of 
nine years; when the republican forces under Iturbide get- 
ting again in the ascendant, ^^ McKnight and his comrades 
were finally set at liberty. It is said that two of the party 
contrived, early in 1821, to return to the United States in a 
canoe, which they succeeded in forcing down the Canadian 
fork of the Arkansas. ^^ The stories promulgated by these 

" Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, patriot priest of Mexico, raised the standard 
of revolt in his parish of Dolores, September, 1810. At first successful, he was 
later captured (March 21, 181 1), while tiying to escape through the northern 
provinces to the United States. After trial and degradation from his priestly 
ofl&ces, he was shot, July 31, 181 1. American sympathies were largely with the 
revolutionists. — Ed. 

" For Iturbide, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, note 141. — Ed. 

*^ The names of this party are given in Annals 0} Congress, 15 Cong., 2 sess., 
1954-1966, in relating an imsuccessful attempt (1817-18) of the state department 
to secure their release from the Spanish authorities. James Baird appears to have 
been the leader, although Robert McKnight was also prominent. According to 
the report of John Scott, a Missouri congressman, orders for their release were 
issued in 181 7; but no passport accompanying this order, no person from Missouri 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies ijy 

men soon induced others to launch into the same field of 
enterprise, [21] among whom was a merchant of Ohio, 
named Glenn, who, at the time, had an Indian trading- 
house near the mouth of the Verdigris river. Having taken 
the circuitous route up the Arkansas towards the mountains, 
this pioneer trader encountered a great deal of trouble and 
privation, but eventually reached Santa Fe with his little 
caravan, before the close of 1821, in perfect safety." 
Ji During the same year. Captain Becknell, of Missouri, 
with four trusty companions, went out to Santa Fe by the 
far western prairie route. This intrepid little band started 
from the vicinity of Franklin, with the original purpose of 
trading with the latan or Comanche Indians; but having 
fallen in accidentally with a party of Mexican rangers, when 
near the Mountains, they were easily prevailed upon to 
accompany them to the new emporium, where, notwith- 
standing the trifling amount of merchandise they were pos- 
sessed of, they realized a very handsome profit. The fact 
is, that up to this date New Mexico had derived all her sup- 
plies from the Internal Provinces by the way of Vera Cruz; 
but at such exorbitant rates, that common calicoes, and 
even bleached and brown domestic goods, sold as high as 

dared venture overland to New Mexico — which suggests one reason why the 
Santa Fe commerce languished at this period. Compare also the experiences of 
Chouteau and De Munn, related in Chittenden, Fur-Trade, ii, pp. 497-500, Annals 
of Congress, 15 Cong., 2 sess., 1957-1966. McKnight's brother, John, went to 
Mexico in 182 1, and either through his efforts, or because of the revolutionary 
movement the men were released. Gregg relates {post) Baird's further connec- 
tion with the Santa Fe trade. McKnight returned and made a fortune in the 
Santa Rita mines, which he finally abandoned because of Apache hostilities. See 
John T. Hughes, Doniphan's Expedition (Cincinnati, 1848), p. 213. Henry 
Inman, Old Santa Fe Trail (New York, 1897), p. 41, says Robert McKnight 
was murdered by Indians in 1822; this was his brother John. — Ed. 

" For this expedition of Glenn, consult Elliott Coues, Journal of Jacob Fowler 
(New York, 1898), who accompanied the party. See also Nuttall's Journal, 
volmne xiii in our series, pp. 61, 62; and James's Long's Expedition, our volume 
xvi, note 89. — Ed. 

178 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

two and three dollars per vara (or Spanish yard of thirty- 
three inches). Becknell returned to the United States 
alone the succeeding winter, leaving the rest of his company 
at Santa Fe." 

The favorable reports brought by the enterprising Cap- 
tain, stimulated others to embark [22] in the trade; and 
early in the following May, Colonel Cooper and sons, from 
the same neighborhood, accompanied by several others 
(their whole number about fifteen), set out with four or five 
thousand dollars' worth of goods, which they transported 
upon pack-horses.^' They steered directly for Taos, where 
they arrived without any remarkable occurrence.^' 

The next effort of Captain Becknell was attended with 
very different success. With a company amounting to 
near thirty men, and perhaps five thousand dollars' worth 
of goods of various descriptions, he started from Missouri, 
about a month after Colonel Cooper. Being an excellent 
woodsman, and anxious to avoid the circuitous route of the 
Upper Arkansas country, he resolved this time, after having 

*' The date of this first expedition of Captain William Becknell is variously 
given by secondary writers all the way from 1812 (Inman) to 1822 (Chittenden). 
Gregg is correct, as is proved by the Journal of this pioneer trader, published 
in the Missouri Intelligencer for April 22, 1823. They left Arrow Rock Ferry 
(near Frankhn, Missouri), September i, 182 1; the thirteenth of November, they 
encountered a party of Spanish troops, who brought them to San Miguel, wkere 
they found a Frenchman who could act as interpreter. At Santa F€ they "were 
received with apparent pleasure and joy," visited the governor, and on December 
13, Becknell, with one companion, started for Missouri, which they reached safely 
in forty-eight days. — Ed. 

" For the Cooper family, see Brackenridge's Journal, in our volimie vi, note 
II. The leader of the first Santa Fe expedition was Colonel Benjamin Cooper, 
who was accompanied by his nephews, Braxton and Stephen — Senate Ex. Docs., 
18 Cong., 2 sess., 79. Braxton was later killed by the Comanche (Draper 
MSS. 23S85, 135), on the confines of New Mexico. Stephen led a party of his 
own in 1823. Later he became a California pioneer, and as late as 1883 was 
living in Colusa. See his own account of his adventures and sufferings on the 
Santa F^ trail, in History 0} Howard and Cooper Counties (St. Louis, 1883), pp. 
152-155 — Ed. 

" For Taos, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, p. 73, note 44. — Ed. 

183 1-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 179 

reached that point on the Arkansas river since known as the 
'Caches,' to steer more directly for Santa Fe, entertaining 
little or no suspicion of the terrible trials which awaited 
him across the pathless desert. With no other guide but the 
starry heavens, and, it may be, a pocket-compass, the party 
embarked upon the arid plains which extended far and wide 
before them to the Cimarron river. 

The adventurous band pursued their forward course \ 
without being able to procure any water, except from the 
scanty supply they carried in their canteens. As this source 
of relief was completely exhausted after two days' march, 
the sufferings of both men and beasts had driven them al- 
most to distraction. [23] The forlorn band were at last 
reduced to the cruel necessity of killing their dogs, and cut- 
ting off the ears of their mules, in the vain hope of assuaging 
their burning thirst with the hot blood. This only served 
to irritate the parched palates, and madden the senses of 
the sufferers. Frantic with despair, in prospect of the hor- 
rible death which now stared them in the face, they scat- 
tered in every direction in search of that element which they 
had left behind them in such abundance, but without suc- 

Frequently led astray by the deceptive glimmer of the 
mirage, or false ponds, as those treacherous oases of the 
desert are called, and not suspecting (as was really the case) 
that they had already arrived near the banks of the Cimarron, 
they resolved to retrace their steps to the Arkansas. But 
they now were no longer equal to the task, and would un- 
doubtedly have perished in those arid regions, had not a 
buffalo, fresh from the river's side, and with a stomach dis- 
tended with water, been discovered by some of the party, 
just as the last rays of hope were receding from their vision. 
The hapless intruder was immediately dispatched, and an 
invigorating draught procured from its stomach. I have 

i8o Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

since heard one of the parties to that expedition declare, that 
nothing ever passed his lips which gave him such exquisite 
delight as his first draught of that filthy beverage. 

This providential relief enabled some of the strongest 
men of the party to reach the [24] river, where they filled 
their canteens, and then hurried back to the assistance of 
their comrades, many of whom they found prostrate on the 
ground, and incapable of further exertion. By degrees, 
however, they were all enabled to resume their journey; and 
following the course of the Arkansas for several days, there- 
by avoiding the arid regions which had occasioned them so 
much suffering, they succeeded in reaching Taos (sixty or 
seventy miles north of Santa Fe) without further difficulty. 
Although travellers have since suffered excessively with 
thirst upon the same desert, yet, having become better ac- 
quainted with the topography of the country, no other equal- 
^ ly thrilling incidents have subsequently transpired." 
^ It is from this period — the year 1822 rr^ that the virtual 
commencement of the Santa Fe Trade may be dated. 
The next remarkable era in its history is the first attempt to 
introduce wagons in these expeditions. This was made in 
1824 by a company of traders, about eighty in number, 
among whom were several gentlemen of intelligence from 
Missouri, who contributed, by their superior skill and un- 
daunted energy, to render the enterprise completely suc- 
cessful. A portion of this company employed pack-mules: 
among the rest were owned twenty-five wheeled vehicles, 
of which one or two were stout road-wagons, two were carts, 

** Gregg is the only one to narrate the sufferings from thirst experienced by this 
second caravan of Becknell. He is incorrect, however, concerning two particulars 
furnished by the journal of Becknell (see note 15, ante) — this was the first expe- 
dition going out with wagons, and its New Mexican terminus was San Miguel, 
not Taos. Senate Ex. Docs., 18 Cong., 2 sess., 79. These facts establish Becknell 
as the founder of the Santa Fe trail, as followed for the next twenty years. See 
Chittenden, Fur-Trade, ii, pp. 501-506. All that is known of Becknell's later 
life is the trapping journey to Green River (1824). — Ed. 

183 1- 1 839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 181 

and the rest dearborn carriages — the whole conveying 
some $25,000 or $30,000 worth of merchandise. Colonel 
Marmaduke, [25] the present Governor of the State of Mis- 
souri, ^^ having formed one of the party, has been pleased to 
place his diary of that eventful journey at my disposal; but 
want of space necessarily compels me to pass over the many 
interesting and exciting incidents which it contains. Suffice 
it to say that the caravan reached Santa Fe with much less 
difficulty than must have been anticipated from a first ex- 
periment with wheeled vehicles. The route, indeed, ap- 
pears to have presented fewer obstacles than any ordinary 
road of equal length in the United States. 

It was not until several years after this experiment, how- 
ever, that adventurers with large capital began seriously to 
embark in the Santa Fe trade. ^'^ The early traders having 
but seldom experienced any molestations from the Indians, 
generally crossed the plains in detached bands, each individ- 
ual rarely carrying more than two or three hundred dollars' 
worth of stock. This peaceful season, however, did not 
last very long; and it is greatly to be feared that the traders 
were not always innocent of having instigated the savage 
hostilities that ensued in after years. Many seemed to for- 
get the wholesome precept, that they should not be savages 

*° Meredith Miles Marmaduke was a native of Westmoreland County, Vir- 
ginia, (August 28, 1791), where he had served as colonel of county miUtia in the 
War of 1812-15. About 1824 he came to Missouri for his health, and settling at 
Old FrankHn, embarked in the Santa Fe trade. After six years in this enterprise, 
in which he was very successful, he settled near Arrow Rock, in Saline County, 
and was soon a pubUc servant, acting as county judge and holding other offices 
of trust. As a strong Jackson Democrat he was elected Ueutenant-govemor of 
Missouri in 1840, and upon the death of Governor Reynolds (1844), ser\'ed for a 
few months as governor. In 1847 he was member of the Missouri constitutional 
convention; and upon the outbreak of the War of Secession was a strong unionist. 
He died at his home near Arrow Rock, March 26, 1864. Two of his sons were 
Confederate officers, and one of them was governor of his state in 1884. — Ed. 

'" For a Ust of the early caravans and their leaders, etc., see Chittenden, Fur- 
Trade, ii, pp. 508-510. — Ed. 

1 82 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

themselves because they dealt with savages. Instead of 
cultivating friendly feelings with those few who remained 
peaceful and honest, there was an occasional one always 
disposed to kill, even in cold blood, every Indian that fell 
V^ into their power, merely because some of [26] the tribe had 
committed some outrage either against themselves or their 

Since the commencement of this trade, returning parties 

have performed the homeward journey across the plains 

; with the proceeds of their enterprise, partly in ^ecie, and 

' partly in furs, buffalo rugs and animals. Occasionally, 

I these straggling bands would be set upon by marauding 

Indians, but if well armed and of resolute spirit, they found 

very little difficulty in persuading the savages to let them 

pass unmolested; for, as Mr. Storrs very justly remarks, in 

his representation presented by Colonel Benton, in 1825, to 

the United States Senate, the Indians are always willing to 

compromise when they find that they cannot rob 'Vithout 

losing the lives of their warriors, which they hardly ever 

risk, unless for revenge or in open warfare."" 

The case was very different with those who through care- 
lessness or recklessness ventured upon the wild prairies 
without a sufficient supply of arms. A story is told of a 
small band of twelve men, who, while encamped on the 
Cimarron river, in 1826, with but four serviceable guns 
between them, were visited by a party of Indians (believed 

^'Thomas Hart Benton, senator from Missouri (1821-51), introduced a bill 
in the last session of the eighteenth congress (1824-25) to authorize the building of 
a road from Missouri through the Indian country to the borders of New Mexico. 
To demonstrate its importance, he presented a paper from Augustus Storrs, for- 
merly of New Hampshire, then employed in the Santa F^ trade, setting forth the 
progress and returns of this branch of commerce (Niles Register, xxvii, pp. 312-316). 
Gregg quotes from this paper. See Thomas H. Benton, Thirty Years' View 
(New York, 1854), chapter xvi; Debates of Cong., 18 Cong., 2 sess., 7. The bill 
passed into a law, whose signature was one of Monroe's last oflScial acts. Stephen 
Cooper was one of those employed in marking out this road. See his reminis- 
cences, cited in note 16, ante. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 183 

to be Arrapahoes)," who made at first strong demonstrations 
of friendship and good will. Observing the defenceless con- 
dition of the traders, they went away, but soon returned 
about thirty strong, each provided with a lazo, and all on 
foot. The chief then began by informing the Americans 
that his men were tired of walking, and must have horses. 
Thinking it folly [27] to offer any resistance, the terrified 
traders told them if one animal apiece would satisfy them, 
to go and catch them. This they soon did ; but finding their 
requests so easily complied with, the Indians held a little 
parley together, which resulted in a new demand for more — 
they must now have two apiece. ''Well, catch them!" was 
the acquiescent reply of the unfortunate band — upon 
which the savages mounted those they had already secured, 
and, swinging their lazos over their heads, plunged among 
the stock with a furious yell, and drove off the entire caballada 
of near five hundred head of horses, mules and asses. 

The fall of 1828 proved still more fatal to the traders on 
their homeward trip ; for by this time the Indians had learned 
to form a correct estimate of the stock with which the return 
companies were generally provided. Two young men 
named McNees and Monroe, having carelessly lain down 
to sleep on the banks of a stream, since known as McNees' s 
creek, were barbarously shot, with their own guns, as it 
was supposed, in very sight of the caravan. When their 
comrades came up, they found McNees lifeless, and the 
other almost expiring." In this state the latter was carried 
nearly forty miles to the Cimarron river, where he died, and 
was buried according to the custom of the Prairies." 

^ For the Arapaho, consult Bradbury's Travels, in our volume v, p. 225, note 
120. — Ed. 

^ Daniel Monroe and young McNees, son of Samuel, were both from Franklin, 
Missouri. — Ed. 

^ These funerals are usually performed in a very summary manner. A grave 
is dug in a convenient spot, and the corpse, with no other shroud than its own 

184 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

[28] Just as the funeral ceremonies were about to be con- 
cluded, six or seven Indians appeared on the opposite side 
of the Cimarron. Some of the party proposed inviting 
them to a parley, while the rest, burning for revenge, evinced 
a desire to fire upon them at once. It is more than probable, 
however, that the Indians were not only innocent but igno- 
rant of the outrage that had been committed, or they would 
hardly have ventured to approach the caravan. Being 
quick of perception, they very soon saw the belligerent atti- 
tude assumed by some of the company, and therefore wheeled 
round and attempted to escape. One shot was fired, which 
wounded a horse and brought the Indian to the ground, 
when he was instantly riddled with balls ! Almost simulta- 
neously another discharge of several guns followed, by which 
all the rest were either killed or mortally wounded, except 
one, who escaped to bear to his tribe the news of their dread- 
ful catastrophe ! 

These wanton cruelties had a most disastrous effect upon 
the prospects of the trade; for the exasperated children of 
the desert became more and more hostile to the 'pale faces, ' 
against whom they continued to wage a cruel war for many 
successive years. In fact, this same party suffered very 
severely a few days afterwards. They were pursued by the 
enraged comrades of the slain savages to the Arkansas river, 
where they were robbed of nearly a thousand head of mules 
and horses. But the Indians were not yet satisfied. Hav- 
ing [29] beset a company of about twenty men, who followed 
shortly after, they killed one of their number, and subse- 
quently took from them all the animals they had in their 
possession. The unfortunate band were now not only 
compelled to advance on foot, but were even constrained to 

clothes, and only a blanket for a coffin, is consigned to the earth. The grave is 
then usually filled up with stones or poles, as a safe-guard against the voracious 
wolves of the prairies. — Gregg. 

1831-1839] G^^^i^ Commerce of the Prairies 185 

carry nearly a thousand dollars each upon their backs to 
the Arkansas river, where it was cached (concealed in the 
ground) till a conveyance was procured to transfer it to the 
United States. 

Such repeated and daring outrages induced the traders 
to petition the Federal Government for an escort of United 
States troops. The request having been granted, Major 
Riley,^^ with three companies of infantry and one of rifle- \ 
men, was ordered to accompany the caravan which left in 
the spring of 1829. The escort stopped at Chouteau's 
Island, on the Arkansas river, and the traders thence pur- 
sued their journey through the sand-hills beyond. ^^^ They 
had hardly advanced six or seven miles, when a startling 
incident occurred which made them wish once more for the 
company of the gallant Major and his well-disciplined 
troops. A vanguard of three men, riding a few hundred 
yards ahead, had just dismounted for the purpose of satisfy- 
ing their thirst, when a band of Kiawas, one of the most 
savage tribes that infest the western prairies," rushed upon 
them from the immense hillocks of sand which lay scattered 

* Bennett Riley was bom in Alexandria, Virginia (1787), and entered the army 
from Maryland as an ensign in 1813. He attained a captaincy in 1818, and for 
long and efficient service was breveted major in 1828. He was an adept at cam- 
paigning on the plains, leading a wing of the Arikara expedition in 1823, and being 
distinguished for bravery in the Seminole war. In the Mexican war, he was a 
trusted lieutenant of General Winfield Scott, who pubhcly attributed much of his 
success at Monterey and Cerro Gordo to Colonel Riley's prowess. In 1847, he 
became brigadier-general, and the next year was sent in command of the division of 
the West to CaUfomia, where he acted as last territorial governor, and aided in 
forming the state constitution. On his departure from California (1850), his popu- 
larity was signalized by testimonials of popular respect. He died in Buffalo in 
1853.— Ed. 

^ Chouteau Island was in the upper Ford of the Arkansas River, just above the 
present town of Hartland, Kearney Coimty, Kansas. The name dates from the 
disastrous expedition of 1815-1817 (see note 134, in our voliune xv) when Chouteau 
retreated to this island to withstand a Comanche attack. For the Chouteaus, see 
our volume xvi, p. 275, note 127. — Ed. 

^' For the Kiowa, see our volume xv, p. 157, note 48. — Ed. 

1 86 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

in all directions. The three men sprang upon their animals, 
but two only who had horses were [30] enabled to make 
their escape to the wagons; the third, a Mr. Lamme, who 
was unfortunately mounted upon a mule, was overtaken, 
slain and scalped before any one could come to his assist- 
ance.^* Somewhat alarmed at the boldness of the Indians, 
the traders dispatched an express to Major Riley, who im- 
mediately ordered his tents to be struck; and such was the 
rapidity of his movements, that when he appeared before 
the anxious caravan every one was lost in astonishment. 
The reinforcement having arrived in the night, the enemy 
could have obtained no knowledge of the fact, and would 
no doubt have renewed the attack in the morning, when 
they would have received a wholesome lesson from the 
troops, had not the reveille been sounded through mistake, 
at which they precipitately retreated. The escort now con- 
tinued with the company as far as Sand creek,^" when, per- 
ceiving no further signs of danger, they returned to the 
Arkansas, to await the return of the caravan in the ensuing 

The position of Major Riley on the Arkansas was one of 
serious and continual danger. Scarce a day passed with- 
out his being subjected to some new annoyance from preda- 
tory Indians. The latter appeared, indeed, resolved to 
check all further concourse of the whites upon the Prairies; 
and fearful of the terrible extremes to which their excesses 
might be carried, the traders continued to unite in single 
caravans during many years afterwards, for the sake of 

^^ Samuel Craig Lamme, a merchant of Franklin, Missouri, who had lately 
come thither from Harrison County, Kentucky. See NUes Register, xxxvii, 
p. 230. — Ed. 

" For Sand Creek, see James's Long's Expedition, in our volume xvi, note 
78.— Ed. 

'" Major Riley continued in this vicinity until October, when he met the return- 
ing caravan, escorted by Mexican troops under command of Colonel Vizcarra, 
with whom civiUties were exchanged. For Riley's report of his summer's experi- 
ences, consuh American State Papers, "MiUtary Affairs," iv, pp. 277-280. — Ed. 

183 1 -1839] G^^SS'^ Commerce of the Prairies 187 

mutual protection. [31] This escort under Major Riley, 
and one composed of about sixty dragoons, commanded by 
Captain Wharton, in 1834,^' constituted the only govern- 
ment protection ever afforded to the Santa Fe trade, until 
1843, when large escorts under Captain Cook accompanied 
two different caravans as far as the Arkansas river. '^ 

Of the composition and organization of these trading 
caravans, I shall take occasion to speak, from my own ex- 
perience, in the following chapters. 


Headquarters of the Santa Fe Trade — Independence and its Locale — 
A Prairie Trip an excellent Remedy for Chronic Diseases — Supplies 
for the Journey — Wagons, Mules and Oxen — Art of Loading 
Wagons — Romancing Propensity of Travellers — The Departure — 
Storms and Wagon-covers — Quagmires — Tricks of marauding 
Indians — Council Grove — Fancy versus Reality — Electioneering 
on the Prairies — The Organization — Amateur Travellers and 
Loafers — Duties of the Watch — Costumes and Equipment of the 
Party — Timbers for the Journey. 

People who reside at a distance, and especially at the 

North, have generally considered St. Louis as the emporium 

^' There was some criticism in the press, of govermnent protection for this trade, 
especially in view of its small value; therefore the request for an escort in 1830 was 
refused, and no others granted until 1834. 

Clifton Wharton, of Pennsylvania, entered the army in 1818 as second lieuten- 
ant. He attained his captaincy in 1826, and was appointed to the regiment of 
dragoons in 1836. Passing through successive ranks, he became colonel in 1846, 
and died two years later. — Ed. 

^'General Philip St. George Cooke was bom in Virginia (1809), and after 
graduating from West Point (1827) entered the army, in which he continued for 
forty-six years. His first active service was connected with the Black Hawk War, 
wherein he served with the regulars at the battle of Bad Axe (August i, 1832); the 
next year, he was appointed lieutenant in the dragoons, and captain two years 
later. During the Mexican War, he was with Kearny in New Mexico and Cali- 
fornia, returning in time to enter the City of Mexico with Scott, in 1848. At the 
outbreak of the War of Secession, he decided for the union, and commanded the 
cavalry in the peninsula campaign. At the close of this war he was successively 
commander of the departments of the Platte, and of the Great Lakes, retiring in 
1873. He died March 20, 1895. His experiences during the escort of the caravan 
here referred to, are found in his Scenes and Adventures in the Army (New York, 
1857), pp. 236-282. He also pubhshed Conquest of New Mexico and California 
(New York, 1878).— Ed. 

1 8 8 'Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

of the Santa Fe Trade ; but that city, in truth, has never been 
a place of rendezvous, nor even of outfit, except for a small 
portion of the traders who have started from its immediate 
vicinity. The town of Franklin on the Missouri river, over 
a hundred and fifty miles further to the westward, seems 
truly to have been the cradle of our trade; and, in conjunc- 
tion with several neighboring towns, continued for many 
years to furnish the greater number of these adventurous 
traders. ^^ Even subsequently to 1831, many wagons have 
been fitted out and started from this interior section. But 
as the navigation [33] of the Missouri river had considerably 
advanced towards the year 1831, and the advantages of some 
point of debarkation nearer the western frontier were very 
evident, whereby upwards of a hundred miles of trouble- 
some land-carriage, over unimproved and often miry roads, 
might be avoided, the new town of Independence,- but 
twelve miles from the Indian border and two or three south 
of the Missouri river, being the most eligible point, soon be- 
gan to take the lead as a place of debarkation, outfit and 
departure, which, in spite of all opposition, it has ever since 
maintained. It is to this beautiful spot, already grown up 
to be a thriving town, that the prairie adventurer, whether 
in search of wealth, health or amusement, is latterly in the 
habit of repairing, about the first of May, as the caravans 
usually set out some time during that month. Here they 
purchase their provisions for the road, and many of their 
mules, oxen, and even some of their wagons — in short, 

^ The town of Franklin, in the present Howard County, opposite the site of 
Boonville, was the first founded in Boone's Lick County (1816) — see our volume 
V, p. 52, note 24. The next year, it was made the county seat, and during the year 
following a land ofl&ce was opened there. Frankhn was the most important town 
west of St. Louis, at the beginning of the third decade of the nineteenth century; 
but in 1823, the county seat was removed, and in 1828 the entire site was washed 
into the river. Many of the houses were removed two miles farther back to a 
place called New Franklin, but it never attained the prosperity of the old 
town. — Ed. 

183 1 -183 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 189 

load all their vehicles, and make their final preparations for a 
long journey across the prairie wilderness." 

As Independence is a point of convenient access (the 
Missouri river being navigable at all times from March till 
November), it has become the general 'port of embarkation' 
for every part of the great western and northern 'prairie 
ocean. ' Besides the Santa Fe caravans, most of the Rocky 
Mountain traders and trappers, as well as emigrants to 
Oregon, take this town in their route. During the [34] 
season of departure, therefore, it is a place of much bustle 
and active business. 

Among the concourse of travellers at this 'starting point, ' 
besides traders and tourists, a number of pale-faced invalids 
are generally to be met with. The Prairies have, in fact, 
become very celebrated for their sanative effects — more 
justly so, no doubt, than the most fashionable watering- 
places of the North. Most chronic diseases, particularly 
liver complaints, dyspepsias, and similar affections, are 
often radically cured; owing, no doubt, to the peculiarities 
of diet, and the regular exercise incident to prairie life, as 
well as to the purity of the atmosphere of those elevated 
unembarrassed regions. An invalid myself, I can answer 
for the efi&cacy of the remedy, at least in my own case. 
Though, like other valetudinarians, I was disposed to pro- 
vide an ample supply of such commodities as I deemed nec- 
essary for my comfort and health, I was not long upon the 
prairies before I discovered that most of such extra prepara- 
tions were unnecessary, or at least quite dispensable. A 
few knick-knacks, as a little tea, rice, fruits, crackers, etc., 

^* Independence, seat for Jackson County, Missouri, five miles east of Kansas 
City, was laid out in 1827, and by 1831 had become the western rendezvous both 
for the Santa Fe and the Oregon traflSc. Its early settlers were chiefly Tennessee- 
ans and Kentuckians. It was connected with the Mormon migration of 1831-33 
and nearly two thousand votaries of that faith yet reside in the vicinity. It is 
now a railway centre, and a residential suburb for Kansas City, and in 1900 had 
a population of nearly seven thousand. — Ed. 

ipo Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

suffice very well for the first fortnight, after which the in- 
valid is generally able to take the fare of the hunter and 
teamster. Though I set out myself in a carriage, before the 
close of the first week I saddled my pony; and when we 
reached the buffalo range, I was not only as eager for the 
chase as the sturdiest of my companions, but I enjoyed far 
more exquisitely my share of the buffalo, [35] than all the 
delicacies which were ever devised to provoke the most 
fastidious appetite. 

The ordinary supplies for each man's consumption during 
the journey, are about fifty pounds of flour, as many more 
of bacon, ten of coffee and twenty of sugar, and a little salt. 
Beans, crackers, and trifles of that description, are com- 
fortable appendages, but being looked upon as dispensable 
luxuries, are seldom to be found in any of the stores on the 
road. The bufialo is chiefly depended upon for fresh meat,,^ 
and great is the joy of the traveller when that noble animal 
first appears in sight. 

The wagons now most in use upon the Prairies are manu- 
factured in Pittsburg; and are usually drawn by eight mules 
or the same number of oxen. Of late years, however, I 
have seen much larger vehicles employed, with ten or twelve 
mules harnessed to each, and a cargo of goods of about five 
thousand pounds in weight. At an early period the horse 
was more frequently in use, as mules were not found in great 
abundance; but as soon as the means for procuring these 
animals increased, the horse was gradually and finally dis- 
carded, except occasionally for riding and the chase. 

Oxen having been employed by Major Riley for the bag- 
gage wagons of the escort which was furnished the caravan 
of 1829, they were found, to the surprise of the traders, to 
perform almost equal to mules. Since that time, upon an 
average about half of the wagons [36] in these expeditions 
have been drawn by oxen. They possess many advantages, 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 191 

such as pulling heavier loads than the same number of mules, 
particularly through muddy or sandy places; but they gen- 
erally fall off in strength as the prairie grass becomes drier 
and shorter, and often arrive at their destination in a most 
shocking plight. In this condition I have seen them sacri- 
ficed at Santa Fe for ten dollars the pair; though in more 
favorable seasons, they sometimes remain strong enough 
to be driven back to the United States the same fall. There- 
fore, although the original cost of a team of mules is much 
greater, the loss ultimately sustained by them is usually 
less, — to say nothing of the comfort of being able to travel 
faster and more at ease. The inferiority of oxen as regards 
endurance is partially owing to the tenderness of their feet; 
for there are very few among the thousands who have trav- 
elled on the Prairies that ever knew how to shoe them prop- 
erly. Many have resorted to the curious expedient of 
shoeing their animals with 'moccasins' made of raw buffalo- 
skin, which does remarkably well as long as the weather re- 
mains dry; but when wet, they are soon worn through. 
Even mules, for the most part, perform the entire trip with- 
out being shod at all; though the hoofs often become very 
smooth, which frequently renders all their movements on 
the dry grassy surface nearly as laborious as if they were 
treading on ice. 

The supplies being at length procured, and [37] all neces- 
sary preliminaries systematically gone through, the trader 
begins the difficult task of loading his wagons. Those who 
understand their business, take every precaution so to stow 
away their packages that no jolting on the road can after- 
wards disturb the order in which they had been disposed. 
The ingenuity displayed on these occasions has frequently 
been such, that after a tedious journey of eight hundred 
miles, the goods have been found to have sustained much 
less injury, than they would have experienced on a turn- 

192 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

pike-road, or from the ordinary handling of property upon 
our western steam-boats. 

The next great difficulty the traders have to encounter is in 
training those animals that have never before been v^^orked, 
which is frequently attended by an immensity of trouble. 
There is nothing, however, in the mode of harnessing and 
conducting teams in prairie travelling, which differs materi- 
ally from that practised on the public highways throughout 
the States, — the representations of certain travellers to the 
contrary, notwithstanding. From the amusing descriptions 
which are sometimes given by this class of writers, one would 
be apt to suppose that they had never seen a wagon or a 
team of mules before, or that they had just emerged for the 
first time from the purlieus of a large city. The propensity 
evinced by these writers for giving an air of romance to 
everything they have either seen or heard, would seem to 
imply a conviction on their part, that no statement of [38] 
unvarnished facts can ever be stamped with the seal of the 
world's approbation — that a work, in order to prove per- 
manently attractive, should teem with absurdities and 
abound in exaggerated details. How far such an assump- 
tion would be correct, I shall not pause to inquire. 

At last all are fairly launched upon the broad prairie — 
the miseries of preparation are over — the thousand anx- 
ieties occasioned by wearisome consultations and delays 
are felt no more. The charioteer, as he smacks his whip, 
feels a bounding elasticity of soul within him, which he finds 
it impossible to restrain ; — even the mules prick up their 
ears with a peculiarly conceited air, as if in anticipation of 
that change of scene which will presently follow. Har- 
mony and good feeling prevail everywhere. The hilarious 
song, the hon mot and the witty repartee, go round in quick 
succession; and before people have had leisure to take 
cognizance of the fact, the lovely village of Independence, 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 193 

with its multitude of associations, is already lost to the 

It was on the 15th of May, 1 831, and one of the brightest 
and most lovely of all the days in the calendar, that our little 
party set out from Independence. The general rendezvous 
at Council Grove was our immediate destination. It is 
usual for the traders to travel thus far in detached parties, 
and to assemble there for the purpose of entering into some 
kind of organization, for mutual security [39] and defence 
during the remainder of the journey. It was from thence 
that the formation of the Caravan was to be dated, and the 
chief interest of our journey to commence: therefore, to 
this point we all looked forward with great anxiety. The 
intermediate travel was marked by very few events of any 
interest. As the wagons had gone before us, and we were 
riding in a light carriage, we were able to reach the Round 
Grove, about thirty-five miles distant, on the first day, 
where we joined the rear division of the caravan, com- 
prising about thirty wagons.'^ 

On the following day we had a foretaste of those pro- 
tracted, drizzling spells of rain, which, at this season of the 
year, so much infest the frontier prairies. It began sprink- 
ling about dark, and continued pouring without let or 
hinderance for forty-eight hours in succession; and as the 
rain was accompanied by a heavy north-wester, and our 
camp was pitched in the open prairie, without a stick of 
available timber within a mile of us, it must be allowed 
that the whole formed a prelude anything but flattering to 
valetudinarians. For my own part, finding the dearborn 
carriage in which I had a berth not exactly water-proof, 
I rolled myself in a blanket and lay snugly coiled upon a 

^^ Round Grove, also called "Lone Elm" and "The Glen," was on the head- 
waters of Cedar Creek, between Olathe and Gardner, Johnson County, Missouri. 
So far the Oregon Trail coincided with that of Santa Fe, but branched north a few 
miles beyond. — Ed. 

194 F.arly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

tier of boxes and bales, under cover of a wagon, and thus 
managed to escape a very severe drenching. 

It may be proper to observe here, for the benefit of future 
travellers, that in order to make a secure shelter for the 
cargo, against [40] the inclemencies of the weather, there 
should be spread upon each wagon a pair of stout Osnaburg 
sheets, with one of sufficient width to reach the bottom of 
the body on each side, so as to protect the goods from driving 
rains. By omitting this important precaution many pack- 
ages of merchandise have been seriously injured. Some 
have preferred lining the exterior of the wagon-body by 
tacking a simple strip of sheeting all around it. On the 
outward trips especially, a pair of Mackinaw blankets can 
be advantageously spread betwixt the two sheets, which 
effectually secures the roof against the worst of storms. 
This contrivance has also the merit of turning the blan- 
kets into a profitable item of trade, by enabling the owners 
to evade the custom-house officers, who would otherwise 
seize them as contraband articles. 

The mischief of the storm did not exhaust itself, however, 
upon our persons. The loose animals sought shelter in the 
groves at a considerable distance from the encampment, 
and the wagoners being loth to turn out in search of them 
during the rain, not a few of course, when applied for, were 
missing. This, however, is no uncommon occurrence. 
Travellers generally experience far more annoyance from 
the straying of cattle during the first hundred miles, than 
at any time afterwards; because, apprehending no danger 
from the wild Indians (who rarely approach within two 
hundred miles of the border), they seldom keep any watch, 
although that is the very [41] time when a cattle-guard is 
most needed. It is only after some weeks' travel that the 
animals begin to feel attached to the caravan, which they 
then consider about as much their home as the stock-yard 
of a dairy farm. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 195 

After leaving this spot the troubles and vicissitudes of our 
journey began in good earnest; for on reaching the narrow 
ridge which separates the Osage and Kansas waters (known 
as 'the Narrows '),^° we encountered a region of very trouble- 
some quagmires. On such occasions it is quite common for 
a wagon to sink to the hubs in mud, while the surface of 
the soil all around would appear perfectly dry and smooth. 
To extricate each other's wagons we had frequently to 
employ double and triple teams, with 'all hands to the 
wheels' in addition — often led by the proprietors them- 
selves up to'the waist in mud and water. 

Three or four days after this, and while crossing the head 
branches of the Osage river, we experienced a momentary 
alarm. Conspicuously elevated upon a rod by the road- 
side, we found a paper purporting to have been written by 
the Kansas agent, stating that a band of Pawnees were said 
to be lurking in the vicinity ! The first excitement over, 
however, the majority of our party came to the conclusion 
that it was either a hoax of some of the company in advance, 
or else a stratagem of the Kaws (or Kansas Indians), who, 
as well as the Osages, prowl about those prairies, and steal 
from the caravans, during [42] the passage, when they 
entertain the slightest hope that their maraudings will be 
laid to others. They seldom venture further, however, than 
to seize upon an occasional stray animal, which they fre- 
quently do with the view alone of obtaining a reward for 
returning it to its owner. As to the Pawnees, the most 
experienced traders were well aware that they had not been 
known to frequent those latitudes since the commencement 
of the Santa Fe trade." But what contributed as much as 

*' The Narrows, also called "Willow Springs" and "Wakarusa Point," was 
just west of Baldwin, where the aflBuents of Wakarusa Creek (Kansas tributary) 
and Ottawa Creek (of the Osage system) approach. — Ed. 

" For the Kansas and Osage, see our volume v, pp. 50, 67, notes 22, 37; for the 
Pawnee, Brackenridge's Journal, in our volume vi, p. 61, note 17. — Ed. 

196 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

anything else to lull the fears of the timid, was an accession 
to our forces of seventeen wagons which we overtook the 
same evening. 

Early on the 26th of May we reached the long looked-for 
rendezvous of Council Grove, where we joined the main 
body of the caravan. Lest this imposing title suggest to the 
reader a snug and thriving vUlage, it should be observed, 
that, on the day of our departure from Independence, we 
passed the last human abode upon our route; therefore, 
from the borders of Missouri to those of New Mexico not 
even an Indian settlement greeted our eyes. 

This point is nearly a hundred and fifty miles from 
Independence, and consists of a continuous stripe of timber 
nearly half a mile in width, comprising the richest varieties 
of trees; such as oak, walnut, ash, elm, hickory, etc., and 
extending all along the valleys of a small stream known as 
'Council Grove creek,' the principal branch of the Neosho 
[43] river. This stream is bordered by the most fertile 
bottoms and beautiful upland prairies, well adapted to 
cultivation: such indeed is the general character of the 
country from thence to Independence. All who have tra- 
versed these delightful regions, look forward with anxiety 
to the day when the Indian title to the land shall be extin- 
guished, and flourishing 'white' settlements dispel the 
gloom which at present prevails over this uninhabited region. 
Much of this prolific country now belongs to the Shawnees 
and other Indians of the border, though some portion of it 
has never been allotted to any tribe. '^ 

Frequent attempts have been made by travellers to invest 

'* For the early history of the Shawnee, see in oiir volume i, Weiser's Journal, 
p. 23, note 13, and Croghan's Journals, p. 134, note 102. After 1818 the Shawnee 
Uved in northern Ohio, upon a tract thirty miles square. Some years before (1793) 
a body had gone beyond the Mississippi, and received a grant from the Spanish 
Governor Carondelet. In 1825, General William Clark procured that tract in 
exchange for a larger one on the Kansas River, and thither in 1831 the Ohio Shaw- 
nee removed, and reunited the tribe. By a treaty in 1854, the Kansas land was 
ceded, and the remnant of the tribe removed to Indian Territory. — Ed. 

183 1 -183 9] Gregg's Cotnmerce of the Prairies 197 

the Council Grove with a romantic sort of interest, of 
which the following fabulous vagary, which I find in a letter 
that went the rounds of our journals, is an amusing sam- 
ple: "Here the Pawnee, Arapaho, Comanche, Loup and 
Eutaw Indians, all of whom were at war with each other, 
meet and smoke the pipe once a year." Now it is more 
than probable that not a soul of most of the tribes men- 
tioned above ever saw the Council Grove. Whatever may 
be the interest attached to this place, however, on account 
of its historical or fanciful associations, one thing is very 
certain, — that the novice, even here, is sure to imagine him- 
self in the midst of lurking savages. These visionary fears 
are always a source of no little merriment to the veteran 
of the field, who does not hesitate to travel, with a single 
wagon and a [44] comrade or two, or even alone, from the 
Arkansas river to Independence. 

The facts connected with the designation of this spot are 
simply these. Messrs. Reeves, Sibley and Mathers, having 
been commissioned by the United States, in the year 1825, 
to mark a road from the confines of Missouri to Santa Fe,^® 
met on this spot with some bands of Osages, with whom 
they concluded a treaty, whereby the Indians agreed to 
allow all citizens of the United States and Mexico to pass un- 
molested, and even to lend their aid to those engaged in the 
Santa Fe trade; for which they were to receive a gratifi- 
cation of eight hundred dollars in merchandise. The 
commissioners, on this occasion, gave to the place the name 
of 'Council Grove.'*" 

'* For the law authorizing this road, see note 21, ante. For George C. Sibley, 
consuh our volume v, p. 66, note 36. Thomas Mather, a native of Connecticut 
(1795), came to Illinois in 1818, settling first at Kaskaskia, and removing to Spring- 
field in 1835. He was a member of the IlUnois legislature for several terms, and 
opposed the proposition to admit slavery to the state. He died in 1853. 

Benjamin Reeves was probably from Kentucky. — Ed. 

*' Council Grove was one of the important stations on the Santa Fe trail. 
Cooke describes it as " a luxuriant heavily timbered bottom of the Neosho of about 
one hundred and sixty acres It is a charming grove, though somber, for we 

198 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

But, although the route examined by the Commissioners 
named above, was partially marked out as far as the Arkan- 
sas, by raised mounds, it seems to have been of but little 
service to travellers, who continued to follow the trail pre- 
viously made by the wagons, which is now the settled road 
to the region of the short 'buffalo grass.' 

The designation of 'Council Grove,' after all, is perhaps 
the most appropriate that could be given to this place; for 
we there held a 'grand council,' at which the respective 
claims of the different 'aspirants to office' were considered, 
leaders selected, and a system of government agreed upon, — 
as is the standing custom of these promiscuous caravans. 
One would have supposed that electioneering [45] and 
'party spirit' would hardly have penetrated so far into the 
wilderness: but so it was. Even in our little community 
we had our 'office-seekers' and their 'political adherents,' 
as earnest and as devoted as any of the modern school of 
politicians in the midst of civilization. After a great deal 
of bickering and wordy warfare, however, all the 'candidates' 
found it expedient to decline, and a gentleman by the name 
of Stanley, without seeking, or even desiring the 'office,' 
was unanimously proclaimed 'Captain of the Caravan.' 
The powers of this officer were undefined by any 'constitu- 
tional provision,' and consequently vague and uncertain: 
orders being only viewed as mere requests, they are often 
obeyed or neglected at the caprice of the subordinates. It 
is necessary to observe, however, that the captain is expected 
to direct the order of travel during the day, and to designate 
the camping-ground at night; with many other functions 
of a general character, in the exercise of which the company 
find it convenient to acquiesce. But the little attention 

love the contrast to the vast plains hot and shadeless." A town at this site is now 
the seat of Morris County, Kansas, with a population of about two thousand five 
hundred. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^iS-^ Commerce of the Prairies 199 

that is paid to his commands in cases of emergency, I will 
leave the reader to become acquainted with, as I did, by 
observing their manifestations during the progress of the 

But after this comes the principal task of organizing. 
The proprietors are first notified by 'proclamation' to fur- 
nish a list of their men and wagons. The latter are generally 
apportioned into four 'divisions,' particularly [46] when the 
company is large — and ours consisted of nearly a hundred 
wagons," besides a dozen of dearborns and other small 
vehicles, and two small cannons (a four and six pounder), 
each mounted upon a carriage. To each of these divisions, 
a 'lieutenant' was appointed, whose duty it was to inspect 
every ravine and creek on the route, select the best crossings, 
and superintend what is called in prairie parlance, the 
'forming' of each encampment. 

Upon the calling of the roll, we were found to muster an 
efficient force of nearly two hundred men without counting 
invalids or other disabled bodies, who, as a matter of course, 
are exempt from duty. There is nothing so much dreaded 
by inexperienced travellers as the ordeal of guard duty. 
But no matter what the condition or employment of the 
individual may be, no one has the smallest chance of evading 
the 'common law of the prairies.' The amateur tourist and 
the listless loafer are precisely in the same wholesome pre- 
dicament — they must all take their regular turn at the watch. 
There is usually a set of genteel idlers attached to every 
caravan, whose wits are forever at work in devising schemes 
for whiling away their irksome hours at the expense of others. 
By embarking in these 'trips of pleasure,' they are enabled 
to live without expense; for the hospitable traders seldom 
refuse to accommodate even a loafing companion [47] with 

** About half of these wagons were drawn by ox-teams, the rest by mules. — 
The capital in merchandise of the whole caravan was about $200,000. — Gregg . 

200 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

a berth at their mess without charge. But then these 
lounging attaches are expected at least to do good service by 
way of guard duty. None are even permitted to furnish a 
substitute, as is frequently done in military expeditions, for 
he that would undertake to stand the tour of another besides 
his own, would scarcely be watchful enough for the dangers 
of the Prairies. Even the invalid must be able to produce 
unequivocal proofs of his inability, or it is a chance if the 
plea is admitted. For my own part, although I started on 
the 'sick list,' and though the prairie sentinel must stand 
fast and brook the severest storm (for then it is that the 
strictest watch is necessary), I do not remember ever having 
missed my post but once during the whole journey. 

The usual number of watches is eight, each standing a 
fourth of every alternate night. When the party is small 
the number is generally reduced; while in the case of very 
small bands, they are sometimes compelled for safety's sake 
to keep one watch on duty half the night. With large 
caravans the captain usually appoints eight 'sergeants 
of the guard,' each of whom takes an equal portion of men 
under his command. 

The heterogeneous appearance of our company, consisting 
of men from every class and grade of society, with a little 
sprinkling of the softer sex, would have formed an excellent 
subject for an artist's pencil. It may appear, perhaps, a 
little extraordinary that females [48] should have ventured 
across the Prairies under such forlorn auspices. Those who 
accompanied us, however, were members of a Spanish 
family who had been banished in 1829, in pursuance of a 
decree of the Mexican congress, and were now returning to 
their homes in consequence of a suspension of the decree. 
Other females, however, have crossed the prairies to Santa 
Fe at different times, among whom I have known two 
respectable French ladies, who now reside in Chihuahua. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 201 

The wild and motley aspect of the caravan can be but 
imperfectly conceived without an idea of the costumes of 
its various members. The most 'fashionable' prairie dress 
is the fustian frock of the city- bred merchant furnished with a 
multitude of pockets capable of accommodating a variety of 
'extra tackling.' Then there is the backwoodsman with his 
linsey or leather hunting-shirt — the farmer with his blue jean 
coat — the wagoner with his flannel-sleeve vest — besides an 
assortment of other costumes which go to fill up the picture. 

In the article of fire-arms there is also an equally interest- 
ing medley. The frontier hunter sticks to his rifle, as, 
nothing could induce him to carry what he terms in derision 
'the scatter-gun.' The sportsman from the interior flour- 
ishes his double-barrelled fowling-piece with equal confidence 
in its superiority. The latter is certainly the most convenient 
description of gun that can be carried on this journey; as 
a charge of buck-shot in night [49] attacks (which are the 
most common), will of course be more likely to do execution 
than a single rifle-ball fired at random. The 'repeating' 
arms have lately been brought into use upon the Prairies, 
and they are certainly very formidable weapons, particularly 
when used against an ignorant savage foe. A great many 
were furnished beside with a bountiful supply of pistols and 
knives of every description, so that the party made alto- 
gether a very brigand-like appearance. 

During our delay at the Council Grove, the laborers were 
employed in procuring timber for axle-trees and other 
wagon repairs, of which a supply is always laid in before 
leaving this region of substantial growths; for henceforward 
there is no wood on the route fit for these purposes; not even 
in the mountains of Santa Fe do we meet with any service- 
able timber. The supply procured here is generally lashed 
under the wagons, in which way a log is not unfrequently 
carried to Santa Fe, and even sometimes back again. 


A f 

202 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 


The ' Catch up ' — Breaking up of the Encampment — Perversity of 
Mules — Under way — The Diamond Spring — Eccentricities of 
Oxen — First Glance of the Antelope — Buffalo Herds and Prairie 
Novices — A John Gilpin. Race — Culinary Preparations — A Buf- 
falo Feast — Appetite of Prairie Travellers — Troubles in Fording 
Streams — Fresh Alarms and their Causes — A Wolfish Frolic — 
Arkansas River — Pleasing Scenery — Character of the Country — 
Extraordinary Surgical Operation — The ' Pawnee Rock ' — Salu- 
tary Effects of Alarms — New Order of March — Prairie Encamp- 
ment and ' Upholstery ' — HoppUng and Tethering of the ' Stock ' — 
Crossing the Arkansas — Great Battle with Rattlesnakes — A Mus- 
tang Colt and a Mule Fracas — 'The Caches' — Origin and Signifi- 
cation of the Term. 

Owing to the delays of organizing and other preparations, 
we did not leave the Council Grove camp till May 27th. 
Although the usual hour of starting with the prairie caravans 
is after an early breakfast, yet, on this occasion, we were 
hindered till in the afternoon. The familiar note of prep- 
aration, "Catch up! catch up!" was now sounded from 
the captain's camp, and re-echoed from every division and 
scattered group along the valley. On such occasions, a 
scene of confusion ensues, which must be seen to be appre- 
ciated. The woods and dales resound with the gleeful 
yells of the light-hearted wagoners, [51] who, weary of 
inaction, and filled with joy at the prospect of getting 
under way, become clamorous in the extreme. Scarcely 
does the jockey on the race-course ply his whip more 
promptly at that magic word 'Go,' than do these emulous 
wagoners fly to harnessing their mules at the spirit-stirring 
sound of 'Catch up.' Each teamster vies with his fellows 
who shall be soonest ready; and it is a matter of boast- 
ful pride to be the first to cry out —"All's set!" 
^^he uproarious bustle which follows — the hallooing of 
those in pursuit of animals — the exclamations which the 
unruly brutes call forth from their wrathful drivers; together 

1 83 1 -1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 203 

with the clatter of bells — the rattle of yokes and harness — 
the jingle of chains — all conspire to produce a clamorous 
confusion, which would be altogether incomprehensible 
without the assistance of the eyes; while these alone would 
hardly suffice to unravel the labyrinthian manoeuvres and 
hurly-burly of this precipitate breaking up. /"It is some- 
times amusing to observe the athletic wagoner hurrying an 
animal to its post — to see him 'heave upon' the halter 
of a stubborn mule, while the brute as obstinately 'sets 
back,' determined not to 'move a peg' till his own good 
pleasure thinks it proper to do so — his whole manner 
seeming to say, "Wait till your hurry's over!" I have 
more than once seen a driver hitch a harnessed animal to 
the halter, and by that process haul 'his mulishness' forward, 
while each of his four projected feet [52] would leave a 
furrow behind; until at last the perplexed master would 
wrathfully exclaim, "A mule will be a mule any way you 
can fix it!" 

"All's set!" is finally heard from some teamster — "All's 
set," is directly responded from every quarter. "Stretch 
out!" immediately vociferates the captain. Then, the 
'heps!' of drivers — the cracking of whips — the trampling 
of feet — the occasional creak of wheels — the rumbling of 
wagons — form a new scene of exquisite confusion, which 
I shall not attempt further to describe. "Fall in !" is heard 
from head-quarters, and the wagons are forthwith strung 
out upon the long inclined plain, which stretches to the 
heights beyond Council Grove. 

After fifteen miles' progress, we arrived at the 'Diamond 
Spring' (a crystal fountain discharging itself into a small 
brook), to which, in later years, caravans have sometimes 
advanced, before 'organizing.' Near twenty-five miles 
beyond we crossed the Cottonwood fork of the Neosho, a 

204 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

creek still smaller than that of Council Grove, and our 
camp was pitched immediately in its further valley." 

When caravans are able to cross in the evening, they 
seldom stop on the near side of a stream — first, because 
if it happen to rain during the night, it may become flooded, 
and cause both detention and trouble: again, though the 
stream be not impassable after rain, the banks become 
slippery and difficult to ascend. A third and still more 
important [53] reason is, that, even supposing the con- 
tingency of rain does not occur, teams will rarely pull as 
well in 'cold collars,' as wagoners term it —7 that is, when 
fresh geared — as in the progress of a day's travel. When 
a heavy pull is just at hand in the morning, wagoners some- 
times resort to the expedient of driving a circuit upon the 
prairie, before venturing to 'take the bank.' 

We experienced a temporary alarm during the evening, 
while we lay encamped at Cottonwood, which was rather 
more boisterous than serious in its consequences. The 
wagons had been 'formed' across the neck of a bend in the 
creek, into which the cattle were turned, mostly in their 
yokes; for though, when thoroughly trained, teamsters 
usually unyoke their oxen every night, yet at first they often 
leave them coupled, to save the trouble or re-yoking them 
in their unruly state. A little after dark, these animals 
started simultaneously, with a thundering noise and rattle 
of the yokes, towards, the outlet protected by the wagons, 
but for which obstacle they might have escaped far into the 
prairie, and have been irrecoverably lost, or, at least, have 
occasioned much trouble and delay to recover them. The 
cause of the fright was not discovered ; but oxen are exceed- 

^ Diamond Springs was a little north of the town of that name in Morris County, 
Kansas. See description in Hughes, Doniphan's Expedition, p. 41. 

Cottonwood River rises in Marion County and flows south and then east through 
Marion, Chase, and Lyon counties, embouching into the Neosho below Emporia. 
The camp of the Santa F^ trail was near Durham. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Comtnerce of the Prairies 205 

ingly whimsical creatures when surrounded by unfamiHar 
objects. One will sometimes take a fright at the jingle of 
his own yoke-irons, or the cough of his mate, and, by a 
sudden flounce, set the whole herd in a flurry. This was 
probably the case in the present instance ; [54] although some 
of our easily excited companions immediately surmised that 
the oxen had scented a lurking Pawnee. 

Our route lay through uninterrupted prairie for about 
forty miles — in fact I may say, for five hundred miles, 
excepting the very narrow fringes of timber along the borders 
of the streams. The antelope of the high prairies which we 
now occasionally saw, is sometimes found as far east as 
Council Grove ;*^ and as a few old buflPaloes have sometimes 
been met with about Cottonwood, we now began to look 
out for this desirable game. Some scattering bulls are 
generally to be seen first, forming as it would appear the 
'van' or 'piquet guards' of the main droves with their cows 
and calves. The buffalo are usually found much further 
east early in the spring, than during the rest of the year, on 
account of the long grass, which shoots up earlier in the 
season than the short pasturage of the plains. 

Our hopes of game were destined soon to be realized; 
for early on the second day after leaving Cottonwood (a few 
miles beyond the principal Turkey creek)," our eyes were 
greeted with the sight of a herd amounting to nearly a 
hundred head of buffalo, quietly grazing in the distance 
before us. Half of our company had probably never seen 
a buffalo before (at least in its wild state); and the excite- 
ment that the first sight of these 'prairie beeves' occasions 
among a party of novices, beggars all description. Every 

^ For the antelope, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, note 28. — Ed. 

** Turkey Creek is a branch of the Little Arkansas in McPherson County, 
Kansas. This camping place was two hundred and seventeen miles from Inde- 
pendence. — Ed. 

2o6 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

horseman was off in a scamper: and some of the wagoners, 
[55] leaving their teams to take care of themselves, seized 
their guns and joined the race afoot. Here went one with 
his rifle or yager — there another with his double-barrelled 
shot-gun — a third with his holster-pistols — a Mexican 
perhaps with his lance — another with his bow and arrows — 
and numbers joined without any arms whatever, merely for 
the 'pleasures of the chase' — all helter-skelter — a regular 
John Gilpin race, truly 'neck or naught.' The fleetest of 
the pursuers were soon in the midst of the game, which 
scattered in all directions, like a flock of birds upon the 
descent of a hawk. 

A few 'beeves' were killed during the chase; and as soon 
as our camp was pitched, the bustle of kindling fires and 
preparing for supper commenced. The new adventurers 
were curious to taste this prairie luxury; while we all had 
been so long upon salt provisions — now nearly a month — 
that our appetites were in exquisite condition to relish fresh 
meat. The fires had scarcely been kindled when the fumes 
of broiling meat pervaded the surrounding atmosphere; 
while all huddled about, anxiously watching their cookeries, 
and regaling their senses in anticipation upon the savory 
odors which issued from them. 

For the edification of the reader, who has no doubt some 
curiosity on the subject, I will briefly mention, that the 
'kitchen and table ware' of the traders usually consists of 
a skillet, a frying-pan, a sheet-iron camp-kettle, a coffee- 
pot, and each man with his tin cup and a [56] butcher's 
knife. The culinary , operations being finished, the pan 
and kettle are set upon the grassy turf, around which all 
take a 'lowly seat,' and crack their gleesome jokes, while 
from their greasy hands they swallow their savory viands — 
all with a relish rarely experienced at the well-spread tables 
of the most fashionable and wealthy. 

1 83 1- 1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 207 

The insatiable appetite acquired by travellers upon the 
Prairies is almost incredible, and the quantity of coffee 
drank is still more so. It is an unfailing and apparently 
indispensable beverage, served at every meal — even un- 
der the broiling noon-day sun, the wagoner will rarely fail 
to replenish a second time, his huge tin cup. 

Early the next day we reached the 'Little Arkansas,' 
which, although endowed with an imposing name, is only 
a small creek with a current but five or six yards wide. 
But, though small, its steep banks and miry bed annoyed 
us exceedingly in crossing. ^^ It is the practice upon the 
prairies on all such occasions, for several men to go in ad- 
vance with axes, spades and mattocks, and, by digging the 
banks and erecting temporary bridges, to have all in readi- • 
ness by the time the wagons arrive. A bridge over a quag- 
mire is made in a few minutes, by cross-laying it with brush 
(willows are best, but even long grass is often employed 
as a substitute), and covering it with earth, — across which 
a hundred wagons will often pass in safety. 

We had now arrived at the point nearest [57] to the border, 
I believe, where any outrages have been perpetrated upon 
the traders to Santa Fe. One of the early packing companies 
lost their animals on this spot, and had to send back for a 
new supply. 

Next day we reached Cow creek,"" where all the difficulties 
encountered at Little Arkansas had to be reconquered : but 
after digging, bridging, shouldering the wheels, with the 
usual accompaniment of whooping, swearing and cracking 

^ For the Little Arkansas, see James's Long's Expedition, our volume xvi, note 
112. The point where the Santa Fe trail crossed was below Little River in Rice 
County, and is estimated at two hundred and thirty-four miles from Indepen- 
dence. — Ed. 

^ This tributary is described in our volume xvi, note in. Upon this creek a 
Mexican trader, Antonio Jose Chavez, was robbed and murdered in 1843 by a 
marauding party from Texas. See Hughes, Doniphan's Expedition, p. 45, and 
Gregg, post. — Ed. 

2o8 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

of whips, we soon got safely across and encamped in the 
valley beyond. Alarms now began to accumulate more 
rapidly upon us. A couple of persons had a few days before 

been chased to the wagons by a band of buffalo ; and 

this evening the encampment was barely formed when two 
hunters came bolting in with information that a hundred, 
perhaps of the same 'enemy,' were at hand — at least this 
was the current opinion afterwards. The hubbub occa- 
sioned by this fearful news had scarcely subsided, when 
another arrived on a panting horse, crying out "Indians! 
Indians! I've just escaped from a couple, who pursued me 
to the very camp!" ''To arms! to arms!" resounded from 
every quarter — and just then a wolf, attracted by the 
fumes of broiling buffalo bones, sent up a most hideous howl 
across the creek. "Some one in distress!" was instantly 
shouted: "To his relief!" vociferated the crowd — and off 
they bolted, one and all, arms in hand, hurly-burly — 
leaving the camp entirely unprotected ; so that had an enemy 
been at hand indeed, [58] and approached us from the 
opposite direction, they might easily have taken possession 
of the wagons. Before they had all returned, however, a 
couple of hunters came in and laughed very heartily at the 
expense of the first alarmist, whom they had just chased 
into the camp. 

Half a day's drive after leaving this camp of 'false alarms' 
brought us to the valley of Arkansas river. This point is 
about 270 miles from Independence. From the adjacent 
heights the landscape presents an imposing and picturesque 
appearance. Beneath a ledge of wave-like yellow sandy 
ridges and hillocks spreading far beyond, descends the 
majestic river (averaging at least a quarter of a mile in 
width), bespeckled with verdant islets, thickly set with 
Cottonwood timber. The banks are very low and barren, 
with the exception of an occasional grove of stunted trees, 

1831-1839] G^^SS'^ Commerce of the Prairies 209 

hiding behind a swamp or sand-hill, placed there as it were 
to protect it from the fire of the prairies, which in most parts 
keeps down every perennial growth. In many places, in- 
deed, where there are no islands, the river is so entirely bare 
of trees, that the unthinking traveller might approach almost 
to its very brink, without suspecting its presence." 

Thus far, many of the prairies have a fine and productive 
appearance, though the Neosho river (or Council Grove) 
seems to form the western boundary of the truly rich and 
beautiful country of the border. Up to that point the prairies 
are similar to those of Missouri [59] — the soil equally 
exuberant and fertile; while all the country that lies beyond, 
is of a far more barren character — vegetation of every 
kind is more stinted — the gay flowers more scarce, and the 
scanty timber of a very inferior quality: indeed, the streams, 
from Council Grove westward, are lined with very little 
else than cottonwood, barely interspersed here and there 
with an occasional elm or hackberry. 

Following up the course of this stream for some twenty 
miles, now along the valley, and again traversing the points 
of projecting eminences, we reached Walnut creek.** I 
have heard of a surgical operation performed at this point, 
in the summer of 1826, which, though not done exactly 
secundum artem, might suggest some novel reflections to 
the man of science. A few days before the caravan had 
reached this place, a Mr. Broadus, in attempting to draw 
his rifle from a wagon muzzle foremost, discharged its con- 
tents into his arm. The bone being dreadfully shattered, 
the unfortunate man was advised to submit to an amputation 
at once; otherwise, it being in the month of August, and 
excessively warm, mortification would soon ensue. But 

" The trail neared the Arkansas at the Great Bend, somewhere in the vicinity 
of Ellinwood, Barton County. — Ed. 

** For Walnut Creek, see our volume xvi, p. 229, note 107. — Ed. 

2 1 o Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

Broadus obstinately refused to consent to this course, till 
death began to stare him in the face. By this time, how- 
ever, the whole arm had become gangrened, some spots 
having already appeared above the place where the operation 
should have been performed. The invalid's case was 
therefore considered perfectly [60] hopeless, and he was given 
up by all his comrades, who thought of little else than to 
consign him to the grave. 

But being unwilling to resign himself to the fate which 
appeared frowning over him, without a last effort, he ob- 
tained the consent of two or three of the party, who under- 
took to amputate his arm merely to gratify the wishes of the 
dying man; for in such a light they viewed him. Their 
only 'case of instruments' consisted of a handsaw, a 
butcher's knife and a large iron bolt. The teeth of the saw 
being considered too coarse, they went to work, and soon 
had a set of fine teeth filed on the back. The knife having 
been whetted keen, and the iron bolt laid upon the fire, 
they commenced the operation: and in less time than it 
takes to tell it, the arm was opened round to the bone, which 
was almost in an instant sawed off; and with the whizzing 
hot iron the whole stump was so effectually seared as to 
close the arteries completely. Bandages were now applied, 
and the company proceeded on their journey as though 
nothing had occurred. The arm commenced healing rap- 
idly, and in a few weeks the patient was sound and well, 
and is perhaps still living, to bear witness to the superiority 
of the 'hot iron' over ligatures, in 'taking up' arteries. 

On the following day our route lay mostly over a level 
plain, which usually teems with buffalo, and is beautifully 
adapted to the chase. At the distance of about fifteen miles, 
the attention of the traveller is directed to the [61] 'Pawnee 
Rock,' so called, it is said, on account of a battle's having 
once been fought hard by, between the Pawnees and some 

1831-1839] G^^SS-^ Commerce of the Prairies 211 

other tribe. It is situated at the projecting point of a ridge, 
and upon its surface are furrowed, in uncouth but legible 
characters, numerous dates, and the names of various travel- 
lers who have chanced to pass that way.*^ 

We encamped at Ash creek, where we again experienced 
sundry alarms in consequence of 'Indian sign,' that was 
discovered in the creek valley, such as unextinguished fires, 
about which were found some old moccasins, — a sure indi- 
cation of the recent retreat of savages from the vicinity. 
These constant alarms, however, although too frequently 
the result of groundless and unmanly fears, are not without 
their salutary efifects upon the party. They serve to keep 
one constantly on the alert, and to sharpen those faculties 
of observation which would otherwise become blunted or 
inactive. Thus far also we had marched in two lines only; 
but, after crossing the Pawnee Fork, each of the four divis- 
ions drove on in a separate file, which became henceforth 
the order of march till we reached the border of the moun- 
tains.^" By moving in long lines as we did before, the march 
is continually interrupted; for every accident which delays 
a wagon ahead stops all those behind. By marching four 
abreast, this diflQculty is partially obviated, and the wagons 
can also be thrown more readily into a condition of defence 
in case of attack. 

[62] Upon encamping the wagons are formed into a 'hollow 

^' Pawnee Rock, a well-known landmark on the right side of the trail, and 
about two miles back from the river, was a sandstone cliff about twenty feet high, 
surmounted by a pyramidal pile of stones. Cooke, Scenes and Adventures, p. 259, 
gives a somewhat fanciful account of the siege of a few Pawnee on the summit by a 
horde of Comanche. The former, overcome by thirst, perished in attempting to 
cut their way to the river, whereupon the victors raised the mound of stones in com- 
memoration. See also Inman, Old Santa Fe Trail, pp. 403-421. The Rock is no 
longer conspicuous, having been demolished by the railroad and by settlers. — Ed. 

" Ash Creek, in Pawnee County, is nearly three hundred miles from Indepen- 
dence. For the Pawnee Fork, see our volume xvi, note 105. The trail crossed just 
where the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa F^ railroad enters the present town of 
Lamed, seat of Pawnee County. — Ed. 

212 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

square' (each division to a side), constituting at once an 
enclosure (or corral) for the animals when needed, and a 
fortification against the Indians. Not to embarrass this 
cattle-pen, the camp fires are all lighted outside of the wagons. 
Outside of the wagons, also, the travellers spread their beds, 
which consist, for the most part, of buffalo-rugs and blankets. 
Many content themselves with a single Mackinaw; but a 
pair constitutes the most regular pallet; and he that is pro- 
vided with a buffalo-rug into the bargain, is deemed luxuri- 
ously supplied. It is most usual to sleep out in the open 
air, as well to be at hand in case of attack, as indeed for com- 
fort ; for the serene sky of the Prairies affords the most agree- 
able and wholesome canopy. That deleterious attribute of 
night air and dews, so dangerous in other climates, is but 
little experienced upon the high plains: on the contrary, the 
serene evening air seems to affect the health rather favorably 
than otherwise. Tents are so rare on these expeditions that, 
in a caravan of two hundred men, I have not seen a dozen. 
In time of rain the traveller resorts to his wagon, which 
affords a far more secure shelter than a tent ; for if the latter 
is not beaten down by the storms which so often accompany 
rain upon the prairies, the ground underneath is at least 
apt to be flooded. During dry weather, however, even the 
invalid prefers the open air. 

Prior to the date of our trip it had been customary [63] to 
secure the horses by hoppling them. The 'fore-hopple' 
(a leathern strap or rope manacle upon the fore-legs) being 
most convenient, was more frequently used; though the 
'side-line' (a hopple connecting a fore and a hind leg) is the 
most secure; for with this an animal can hardly increase his 
pace beyond a hobbling walk; whereas, with the fore-hopple, 
a frighted horse will scamper off with nearly as much 
velocity as though he were unshackled. But, better than 
either of these is the practice which the caravans have since 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 213 

adopted of tethering the mules at night around the wagons, 
at proper intervals, with ropes twenty-five or thirty feet in 
length, tied to stakes fifteen to twenty inches long, driven 
into the ground; a supply of which, as well as mallets, the 
wagoners always carry with them. 

It is amusing to witness the disputes which often arise 
among wagoners about their 'staking ground.' Each 
teamster is allowed, by our 'common law,' a space of about 
a hundred yards immediately fronting his wagon, which he 
is ever ready to defend, if a neighbor shows a disposition to 
encroach upon his soil. If any animals are found 'staked' 
beyond the 'chartered limits, ' it is the duty of the guard to 
'knock them up,' and turn them into the corral. Of later 
years the tethering of oxen has also been resorted to with 
advantage. It was thought at first that animals thus con- 
fined by ropes could not procure a sufficient supply of food ; 
but experience [64] has allayed all apprehension on the sub- 
ject. In fact, as the camp is always pitched in the most 
luxuriantly clothed patches of prairie that can be selected, 
a mule is seldom able to dispatch in the course of one night, 
all the grass within his reach. Again, when animals are 
permitted to range at liberty, they are apt to mince and nib- 
ble at the tenderest blades and spend their time in roaming 
from point to point, in search of what is most agreeable to 
their 'epicurean palates;' whereas if they are restricted by 
a rope, they will at once fall to with earnestness and clip the 
pasturage as it comes. 

Although the buffalo had been scarce for a few days, — 
frightened off, no doubt, by the Indians whose 'sign' we 
saw about Ash creek, they soon became exceedingly abun- 
dant. The larger droves of these animals are sometimes a 
source of great annoyance to the caravans, as, by running 
near our loose stock, there is frequent danger of their caus- 
ing stampedes (or general scamper), in which case mules. 

214 Early Western Travels [Vol.19 

horses and oxen have been known to run away among the 
buffalo, as though they had been a gang of their own species. 
A company of traders, in 1824, lost twenty or thirty of their 
animals in this way. Hunters have also been deprived of 
their horses in the same way. Leaping from them in haste, 
in order to take a more determinate aim at a buffalo, the 
horse has been known to take fright, and, following the flee- 
ing game, has disappeared with saddle, bridle, pistols and 
all — most probably [65] never to be heard of again. In 
fact, to look for stock upon these prairies, would be em- 
phatically to 'search for a needle in a haystack;' not only 
because they are virtually boundless, but that being every- 
where alive with herds of buffalo, from which horses cannot 
be distinguished at a distance, one knows not whither to 
turn in search after the stray animals. 

We had lately been visited by frequent showers of rain, 
and upon observing the Arkansas river, it was found to be 
rising, which seemed portentous of the troubles which the 
'June freshet' might occasion us in crossing it; and, as it 
was already the nth of this month, this annual occurrence 
was now hourly expected. On some occasions caravans 
have been obliged to construct what is called a 'buffalo- 
boat,' which is done by stretching the hides of these animals 
over a frame of poles, or, what is still more common, over 
an empty wagon-body. The 'June freshets,' however, are 
seldom of long deration; and, during the greatest portion 
of the year, the channel is very shallow. Still the bed of the 
river being in many places filled with quicksand, it is re- 
quisite to examine and mark out the best ford with stakes, 
before one undertakes to cross. The wagons are then driven 
over usually by double teams, which should never be per- 
mitted to stop, else animals and wagons are apt to 
founder, and the loading is liable to be damaged. I have 
witnessed a whole team down at once, rendering it necessary 

1 83 1 -1 839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 215 

[66] to unharness and drag each mule out separately: in 
fact, more than common exertion is sometimes required to 
prevent these dumpish animals from drowning in their 
fright and struggles through the water, though the current 
be but shallow at the place. Hence it is that oxen are much 
safer for fording streams than mules. As for ourselves, we 
forded the river without serious difficulty. 

Rattlesnakes are proverbially abundant upon all these prai- 
ries, and as there is seldom to be found either stick or stone 
with which to kill them, one hears almost a constant popping 
of rifles or pistols among the vanguard, to clear the route of 
these disagreeable occupants, lest they should bite our 
animals. As wt were toiling up through the sandy hillocks 
which border the southern banks of the Arkansas, the day 
being exceedingly warm, we came upon a perfect den of 
these reptiles. I will not say 'thousands,' though this per- 
haps were nearer the truth — but hundreds at least were 
coiled or crawling in every direction. They were no sooner 
discovered than we were upon them with guns and pistols, 
determined to let none of them escape. 

In the midst of this amusing scramble among the snakes, 
a wild mustang colt, which had, somehow or other, become 
separated from its dam, came bolting among our relay of 
loose stock to add to the confusion. One of our mules, 
evidently impressed with the impertinence of the intruder, 
sprang forward and attacked it, with the apparent intention 
[67] of executing summary chastisement; while another 
mule, with more benignity of temper than its irascible com- 
peer, engaged most lustily in defence of the unfortunate little 
mustang. As the contest was carried on among the wagons, 
the teamsters soon became very uproarious; so that the 
whole, with the snake fracas, made up a capital scene of con- 
fusion. When the mule skirmish would have ended, if 
no one had interfered, is a question which remained unde- 

2i6 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

termined; for some of our company, in view of the conse- 
quences that might result from the contest, rather inhumanly 
took sides with the assailing mule; and soon after they en- 
tered the lists, a rifle ball relieved the poor colt from its 
earthly embarrassments, and the company from further 
domestic disturbance. Peace once more restored, we soon 
got under way, and that evening pitched our camp opposite 
the celebrated 'Caches,' a place where some of the earliest 
adventurers had been compelled to conceal their merchan- 

The history of the origin of these 'Caches' may be of 
sufficient interest to merit a brief recital. Beard, of the 
unfortunate party of 181 2, alluded to in the first chapter, 
having returned to the United States in 1822, together with 
Chambers, who had descended the Canadian river the year 
before, induced some small capitalists of St. Louis to join in 
an enterprise, and then undertook to return to Santa F6 the 
same fall, with a small party and an assortment of merchan- 
dise. Reaching the Arkansas [68] late in the season, they 
were overtaken by a heavy snow storm, and driven to take 
shelter on a large island. A rigorous winter ensued, which 
forced them to remain pent up in that place for three long 
months. During this time the greater portion of their 
animals perished; so that, when the spring began to open, 
they were unable to continue their journey with their goods. 
In this emergency they made a cache some distance above, 
on the north side of the river, where they stowed away the 
most of their merchandise. From thence they proceeded 
to Taos, where they procured mules, and returned to get 
their hidden property. 

Few travellers pass this way without visiting these mossy 
pits, many of which remain partly unfilled to the present 

" The Caches, whose origin is described by Gregg, were five miles west of where 
Dodge City now stands. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 217 

day. In the vicinity, or a few miles to the eastward perhaps, 
passes the hundredth degree of longitude west from Green- 
wich, which, from the Arkansas to Red River, forms the 
boundary between the United States and the Mexican, or 
rather the Texan territory." 

The term cache, meaning a place of concealment, was 
originally used by the Canadian French trappers and traders. 
It is made by digging a hole in the ground, somewhat in the 
shape of a jug, which is lined with dry sticks, grass, or any- 
thing else that will protect its contents from the dampness 
of the earth. In this place the goods to be concealed are 
carefully stowed away ; and the aperture is then so effectually 
closed as to protect [69] them from the rains. In caching, 
a great deal of skill is often required, to leave no signs where- 
by the cunning savage might discover the place of deposit. 
To this end, the excavated earth is carried to some distance 
and carefully concealed, or thrown into a stream, if one be 
at hand. The place selected for a cache is usually some 
rolling point, suflSciently elevated to be secure from inunda- 
tions. If it be well set with grass, a solid piece of turf is cut 
out large enough for the entrance. The turf is afterward 
laid back, and taking root, in a short time no signs remain 
of its ever having been molested. However, as every local- 
ity does not afford a turfy site, the camp fire is sometimes 
built upon the place, or the animals are penned over it, 
which effectually destroys all traces of the cache. 

This mode of concealing goods seems to have been in use 
from the time of the earliest French voyagers in America. 
Father Hennepin, during his passage down the Mississippi 

" Most of the maps of this period place the ioo° meridian too far west by nearly 
30'; therefore Gregg locates the Caches east of this point. The treaty of 1819 de- 
fined the boundary between the United States and Spanish-American territory as 
follows: from the Gulf of Mexico up the Sabine River to latitude 32°, thence due 
north to Red River (forming now the western boundary of Louisiana) ; thence up the 
Red to the 100° meridian; thence north to the Arkansas; following that stream to 
its source, and the 42° parallel to the Pacific Ocean. — Ed. 


2 1 8 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

river, in 1680, describes an operation of this kind in the fol- 
lowing terms: ''We took up the green Sodd, and laid it by, 
and digg'd a hole in the Earth where we put our Goods, and 
cover'd them with pieces of Timber and Earth, and then 
put in again the green Turf; so that 'twas impossible to 
suspect that any Hole had been digg'd under it, for we flung 
the Earth into the River." Returning a few weeks after, 
they found the cache all safe and sound. ^^ 


A Desert Plain — Preparation for a ' Water-Scrape ' — Accident to a 
French Doctor — Upsetting of a Wagon and its Consequences — 

— A Party of Sioux Warriors — The first real Alarm — Confusion 
in the Camp — Friendly Demonstrations of the Indians — The 
Pipe of Peace — Squaws and Papooses — An Extemporary Village 

— Lose our Track — Search after the Lost River — Horrible Pros- 
pective — The Cimarron Found at last — A Night of Alarms — 
Indian Serenade and Thieving — Indian Diplomacy — Hail-stones 
and Hurricanes — Position of the Captain of a Caravan — His 
Troubles, his Povi^ers and Want of Powers — More Indians — Hos- 
tile Encounter — Results of the Skirmish — The 'Battle- Ground' 

— Col. Vizcarra and the Gros Ventres. 

Our route had already led us up the course of the Arkan- 
sas river for over a hundred miles, yet the earlier caravans 
often passed from fifty to a hundred further up before cross- 
ing the river; therefore nothing like a regular ford had ever 
been established." Nor was there a road, not even a trail, 
anywhere across the famous plain, extending between the 

" For this quotation from Hennepin, see Thwaites, Hennepin's New Discovery, 
p. 193.— Ed. 

" One passage was by way of Chouteau Island (see note 26, ante), called usually 
the Upper Crossing. Lower Crossing was below Dodge City, near the modem 
Ford, in the county of the same name. The ford followed by Gregg was the usual 
one after 1829, and was known as Cimarron Crossing, near the town of that name 
in Gray County, Kansas. See Dr. A. Wislizenus, "Memoir of a Tour to Northern 
Mexico" in Senate Misc., 30 Cong., i sess., 26. The earUer caravans followed the 
course of the Arkansas for many miles farther, crossing at Bent's Fort. See our 
volume xvi, notes 43, 108. The terminus of the upper Arkansas route was Taos; 
that of the lower or Cimarron trail, San Miguel. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 219 

Arkansas and Cimarron rivers, a distance of over fifty miles, 
which now lay before us — the scene of such frequent suf- 
ferings in former times for want of water. It having been 
determined upon, however, to strike across this dreaded 
desert the following morning, the whole party was busy in 
preparing for the 'water scrape,' [71] as these droughty 
drives are very appropriately called by prairie travellers. 
This tract of country may truly be styled the grand 'prairie 
ocean ; ' for not a single landmark is to be seen for more than 
forty miles — scarcely a visible eminence by which to direct 
one's course. All is as level as the sea, and the compass 
was our surest, as well as principal guide. 

In view of this passage, as well as that of many other dry 
stretches upon the route, the traveller should be apprised of 
the necessity of providing a water-cask holding at least five 
gallons to each wagon, in which a supply for drinking and 
cooking may be carried along to serve in cases of emerg- 

The evening before the embarking of a caravan upon 
this plain, the captain's voice is usually heard above the din 
and clatter of the camp, ordering to "fill up the water kegs," 
— a precaution which cannot be repeated too often, as new 
adventurers are usually ignorant of the necessity of pro- 
viding a supply sufficient to meet every contingency that 
may befal during two or more days' journey over this arid 
region. The cooks are equally engrossed by their respective 
vocations: some are making bread, others preparing viands, 
and all tasking their ingenuity to lay by such stores as may be 
deemed expedient for at least two days' consumption. On 
the following morning (June 14th), the words 'catch up' 
again resounded through the camp, and the caravan was 
once more in motion. 

For the first five miles we had a heavy pull [72] among 
the sandy hillocks ; but soon the broad and level plain opened 

220 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

before us. We had hardly left the river's side, however, 
when we experienced a delay of some hours, in consequence 
of an accident which came very nigh proving fatal to a 
French doctor of our company. Fearful lest his stout top- 
heavy dearborn should upset whilst skirting the slope of a 
hill, he placed himself below in order to sustain it with his 
hands. But, in spite of all his exertions, the carriage tum- 
bled over, crushing and mashing him most frightfully. He 
was taken out senseless, and but little hopes were at first 
entertained of his recovery. Having revived, however, 
soon after, we were enabled to resume our march; and, in the 
course of time, the wounded patient entirely recovered. 

The next day we fortunately had a heavy shower, which 
afforded us abundance of water. Having also swerved 
considerably toward the south, we fell into a more uneven 
section of country, where we had to cross a brook swelled 
by the recent rain, into which one of the wagons was un- 
fortunately overset. This, however, was not a very uncom- 
mon occurrence; for unruly oxen, when thirsty, will often 
rush into a pool in despite of the driver, dragging the wagon 
over every object in their way, at the imminent risk of turn- 
ing it topsy-turvy into the water. We were now compelled 
to make a halt, and all hands flocked to the assistance of 
the owner of the damaged cargo. In a few minutes [73] 
about an acre of ground was completely covered with cali- 
coes, and other domestic goods, presenting altogether an 
interesting spectacle. 

All were busily occupied at this work when some objects 
were seen moving in the distance, which at first were mis- 
taken for buffalo; but were speedily identified as horsemen. 
Anxiety was depicted in every countenance. Could it be 
possible that the party of Capt. Sublette, which was nearly 
a month ahead of us, had been lost in these dreary solitudes ? 
or was it the band of Capt. Bent, who was expected to follow 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 221 

some time after us?" This anxious suspense, however, 
lasted only for a few minutes; and the cry of ''Indians!" 
soon made the welkin ring. Still they appeared to approach 
too slowly for the western prairie tribes. A little nearer, 
and we soon perceived that they carried a flag, which turned 
out to be that of the United States. This welcome sight 
allayed at once all uneasiness; as it is well known that most 
savages, when friendly, approach the whites with a hoisted 
flag, provided they have one. It turned out to be a party 
of about eighty Sioux, who were on a tour upon the Prairies 
for the purpose of trading with, stealing from or marauding 
upon the south-western nations. Our communications 
were carried on entirely by signs; yet we understood them 
perfectly to say, that there were immense numbers of Indians 
ahead, upon the Cimarron river, whom they described by 
symbolic language to be Blackfeet and Comanches; [74] a 
most agreeable prospect for the imagination to dwell upon !" 
We now moved on slowly and leisurely, for all anxiety on 

" William L. Sublette came of a Kentucky pioneer family, being bom in that 
state in 1799. In 1818, he removed to St. Charles, and shortly after embarked in 
the fur-trade. He was with General Ashley's division in the Ankara fight 
(1823); and three years later bought out that pioneer's share in the Rocky 
Mountain Fur Company, and began a career of opposition to the American 
Fur Company. His connection with the Santa Fe trade was slight; this caravan 
of 1831 seems to be the only one in which he enhsted. In 1832 he formed a partner- 
ship with Robert Campbell for the Rocky Mountain trade, with which he was con- 
nected for ten years. He died on his way to Washington in 1845. 

Colonel Charles Bent was one of several brothers, sons of Silas Bent, a New 
Englander who held offices of prominence in Upper Louisiana. The Bents were 
chiefly occupied with the Santa Fe trade, and built Fort Bent on the mountain 
trail. Charles married a New Mexican, and resided at Taos. He accompanied 
the American army of occupation (1846) as captain of scouts; and in September 
was appointed first American governor of New Mexico. In an attempted revolt 
he was murdered at Taos (January, 1847). — Ed. 

" For the Sioux and Blackfeet, consult Bradbury's Travels, in our volume v, 
pp. 90, 225, notes 55, 120; for the Comanche, volume xvi of our series, note 109. 
On the Indian sign language, see Garrick Mallery, "Collection of Gesture Signs 
and Signals" in American Bureau of Ethnology Report, 1879-80, i, p. 263; W. P. 
Clark, Indian Sign Language (Philadelphia, 1885). — Ed. 

222 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

the subject of water had been happily set at rest by frequent 
falls of ram. But imagine our consternation and dismay, 
when, upon descending into the valley of the Cimarron," on 
the morning of the 19th of June, a band of Indian warriors 
on horse-back suddenly appeared before us from behind 
the ravines — an imposing array of death-dealing savages! 
There was no merriment in this ! It was a genuine alarm — 
a tangible reality! These warriors, however, as we soon 
discovered, were only the van-guard of a 'countless host,' 
who were by this time pouring over the opposite ridge, and 
galloping directly towards us. 

The wagons were soon irregularly 'formed' upon the 
hill-side: but in accordance with the habitual carelessness 
of caravan traders, a great portion of the men were unpre- 
pared for the emergency. Scores of guns were 'empty,' 
and as many more had been wetted by the recent showers, 
and would not 'go off. ' Here was one calling for balls — 
another for powder — a third for flints. Exclamations, 
such as, "I've broke my ramrod" — "I've spilt my caps" — 
"I've rammed down a ball without powder" — "My gun is 
'choked;' give me yours" — were heard from different 
quarters; while a timorous 'greenhorn' would perhaps cry 
out, "Here, take my gun, you can out-shoot me!" The 
more daring bolted off to [75] encounter the enemy at once, 
while the timid and cautious took a stand with presented 
rifle behind the wagons. The Indians who were in advance 
made a bold attempt to press upon us, which came near 
costing them dearly; for some of our fiery backwoodsmen 
more than once had their rusty but unerring rifles directed 
upon the intruders, some of whom would inevitably have 

^' The route from the Arkansas to the Cimarron was the most dreaded portion 
of the trail. It was, as Gregg says, unmarked, and destitute of water. Passing 
southwest through Gray, Haskell, and Grant counties, Kansas, it was somewhat 
over fifty miles in length, requiring two days or more for its passage. See Wislizenus, 
Memoir, pp. 11-13. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^SS^ Commerce of the Prairies 223 

fallen before their deadly aim, had not a few of the more 
prudent traders interposed. The savages made demonstra- 
tions no less hostile, rushing, with ready sprung bows, upon 
a portion of our men who had gone in search of water; and 
mischief would, perhaps, have ensued, had not the im- 
petuosity of the warriors been checked by the wise men of 
the nation. 

The Indians were collecting around us, however, in such 
great numbers, that it was deemed expedient to force them 
away, so as to resume our march, or at least to take a more 
advantageous position. Our company was therefore mus- 
tered and drawn up in 'line of battle;' and, accompanied 
by the sound of a drum and fife, we marched towards the 
main group of the Indians. The latter seemed far more de- 
lighted than frightened with this strange parade and music, 
a spectacle they had, no doubt, never witnessed before, and 
perhaps looked upon the whole movement rather as a com- 
plimentary salute than a hostile array; for there was no 
interpreter through whom any communication could be 
conveyed to them. But, whatever may have been [76] their 
impressions, one thing is certain, — that the principal chief 
(who was dressed in a long red coat of strouding, or coarse 
cloth) appeared to have full confidence in the virtues of his 
calumet; which he lighted, and came boldly forward to meet 
our warlike corps, serenely smoking the 'pipe of peace.' 
Our captain, now taking a whiff with the savage chief, directed 
him by signs to cause his warriors to retire. This most of 
them did, to rejoin the long train of squaws and papooses 
with the baggage, who followed in the rear, and were just 
then seen emerging from beyond the hills. Having slowly 
descended to the banks of the stream, they pitched their 
wigwams or lodges; over five hundred of which soon be- 
speckled the ample valley before us, and at once gave to 
its recently meagre surface the aspect of an immense Indian 

224 Rarly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

village. The entire number of the Indians, when collected 
together, could not have been less than from two to three 
thousand — although some of our company insisted that 
there were at least four thousand souls. In such a case 
they must have mustered nearly a thousand warriors, while 
we were but little over two hundred strong. Still, our 
superior arms and the protection afforded by the wagons, 
gave us considerably the advantage, even supposing an 
equality in point of valor. However, the appearance of the 
squaws and children soon convinced us, that, for the present 
at least, they had no hostile intentions; so we also descended 
into the valley [77] and formed our camp a few hundred 
yards below them. The 'capitanes,'^* or head men of the 
whites and Indians, shortly after met, and, again smoking 
the calumet, agreed to be friends. 

Although we were now on the very banks of the Cimarron, 
even the most experienced traders of our party, whether 
through fright or ignorance, seemed utterly unconscious 
of the fact. Having made our descent, far below the usual 
point of approach, and there being not a drop of water 
found in the sandy bed of the river, it was mistaken for 
Sand creek, and we accordingly proceeded without noticing 
it.^® Therefore, after our 'big talk' was concluded, and 
dinner dispatched, we again set out southward, in search 
of the Cimarron. As we were starting, warriors, squaws 
and papooses now commenced flocking about us, gazing 
at our wagons with amazement; for many of them had 
never, perhaps, seen such vehicles before. A few chiefs 
and others followed us to our next encampment; but these 
were sent away at night. 

'* The use of the Spanish term " capitan" (headman) was common on the plains, 
both for Indian chiefs and white leaders. — Ed. 

*• Sand Creek is an affluent of the Cimarron, about half way between it and the 
Arkansas, and frequently is destitute of water. — Ed. 

183 1- 183 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 225 

Our guards were now doubled, as a night attack was 
apprehended ; for although we were well aware that Indians 
never commit outrages with their families at hand, yet it 
was feared that they might either send them away or con- 
ceal them during the night. A little after dark, these fears 
seemed about to be realized; as a party of thirty or forty 
Indians were seen coming up towards the encampments. 
Immediate preparations were made [78] to attack them, 
when they turned out to be a band of squaws, with merely 
a few men as gallants — all of whom were summarily turned 
adrift, without waiting to speculate upon the objects of their 
visit. The next morning a few others made their appear- 
ance, which we treated in precisely the same manner, as a 
horse was missing, which it was presumed the Indians had 

We continued our march southward in search of the 'lost 
river. ' After a few miles' travel we encountered a ledge of 
sand-hills, which obstructed our course, and forced us to 
turn westward and follow their border for the rest of the 
day. Finding but little water that night, and none at all the 
next day, we began by noon to be sadly frightened; for 
nothing is more alarming to the prairie traveller than a 
'water-scrape.' The impression soon became general that 
we were lost — lost on that inhospitable desert, which had 
been the theatre of so many former scenes of suffering ! and 
our course impeded by sand-hills ! A council of the veteran 
travellers was called to take our emergency into considera- 
tion. It was at once resolved to strike in a northwesterly 
direction in search of the 'dry ravine' we had left behind 
us, which was now supposed to have been the Cimarron. 

We had just set out, when a couple of Indians approached 
us, bringing the horse we had lost the night before; an ap- 
parent demonstration of good faith which could hardly 
have been anticipated. It was evidently an effort [79] to 

2 26 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

ingratiate themselves in our favor, and establish an inter- 
course — perhaps a traffic. But the outrages upon Major 
Riley, as well as upon a caravan, not two years before, 
perpetrated probably by the same Indians, were fresh in 
the memory of all ; so that none of us were willing to confide 
in their friendly professions.^" On inquiring by means of 
signs for the nearest water, they pointed to the direction we 
were travelling: and finally taking the lead, they led us, by 
the shortest way, to the valley of the long-sought Cimarron, 
which, with its delightful green-grass glades and flowing 
torrent (very different in appearance from where we had 
crossed it below), had all the aspect of an 'elysian vale,' 
compared with what we had seen for some time past. We 
pitched our camp in the valley, much rejoiced at having 
again 'made a port. ' 

We were not destined to rest long in peace, however. 
About midnight we were all aroused by a cry of alarm, the 
like of which had not been heard since the day Don Quixote 
had his famous adventure with the fulling-mills; and I am 
not quite sure but some of our party suffered as much from 
fright as poor Sancho Panza did on that memorable occasion. 
But Don Quixote and Sancho only heard the thumping of 
the mills and the roaring of the waters; while we heard the 
thumping of the Indian drums, accompanied by occasional 
yells, which our excited fancies immediately construed into 
notes of the fearful war-song. 

[80] After the whole company had been under arms for 
an hour or two, finding the cause of alarm approached no 
nearer, we again retired to rest. But a little before day- 
light we were again startled by the announcement — ' 'The 
Indians are coming! — they are upon the very camp!" In 
a moment every man was up in arms; and several guns were 
presented to 'salute' the visitors, when, to our extreme 

'" See note 30, ante, and report therein cited. — Ed. 

1 831-1839] Gregg s Commerce of the Prairies 227 

mortification, they were found to be but eight or ten in 
number. They were immediately dispatched, by signs, 
and directed to remain away till morning — which they did. 

On the following day, we had been in motion but a few 
minutes, when the Indians began flocking around us in 
large numbers, and by the time we encamped in the eve- 
ning, we had perhaps a thousand of these pertinacious crea- 
tures, males and females, of all ages and descriptions, about 
us. At night, every means, without resorting to absolute 
violence, was employed to drive them away, but without 
entire success. At this time a small band of warriors took 
the round of our camp, and * serenaded' us with a monoto- 
nous song of hee-o-hehs, with the view, I suppose, of gaining 
permission to remain; hoping, no doubt, to be able to 'drive 
a fair business' at pilfering during the night. In fact, a 
few small articles were already missing, and it was now 
discovered that they had purloined a pig of lead (between 
fifty and a hundred pounds weight) from one of the cannon- 
carriages, where it had been carelessly left. This increased 
[81] the uneasiness which already prevailed to a considerable 
extent; and many of us would imagine it already moulded 
into bullets, which we were perhaps destined to receive be- 
fore morning from the muzzles of their fusils. Some were 
even so liberal as to express a willingness to pardon the 
theft, rather than give the Indians the trouble of sending it 
back in so hasty a manner. After a tedious night of sus- 
pense and conjecture, it was no small relief to those whose 
feelings had been so highly wrought upon, to find, on wak- 
ing up in the morning, that every man still retained his 

We started at a much earlier hour, this morning, in hopes 
to leave our Indian tormentors behind; but they were too 
wide awake for us. By the time the wagoners had com- 
pleted the task of gearing their teams, the squaws had 

228 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

^geared ' their dogs, and loaded them with their lodge poles 
and covers, and other light 'plunder,' and were travelling fast 
in our wake. Much to our comfort, however, the greatest 
portion abandoned us before night; but the next day several 
of the chiefs overtook us again at noon, seeming anxious to 
renew the 'treaty of peace. ' The truth is, the former treaty 
had never been 'sealed ' — they had received no presents, 
which form an indispensable ratification of all their 'treaties' 
with the whites. Some fifty or sixty dollars' worth of goods 
having been made up for them, they now left us apparently 
satisfied; and although they continued to return and annoy 
us [82] for a couple of days longer; they at last entirely 

It was generally supposed at the time that there was a 
great number of Comanches and Arrapahoes among this 
troop of savages; but they were principally if not altogether 
Blackfeet and Gros Ventres." We afterward learned that 
on their return to the northern mountains, they met with a 
terrible defeat from the Sioux and other neighboring tribes, 
in which they were said to have lost more than half their 

We now encountered a great deal of wet weather; in fact 
this region is famous for cold protracted rains of two or 
three days' duration. Storms of hail-stones larger than 
hen's eggs are not uncommon, frequently accompanied by 
the most tremendous hurricanes. The violence of the 
wind is sometimes so great that, as I have heard, two road- 
wagons were once capsized by one of these terrible thunder- 
gusts; the rain, at the same time, floating the plain to the 
depth of several inches. In short, I doubt if there is any 
known region out of the tropics, that can 'head' the great 

'^ For the Grosventres, see Franchfere's Narrative, in our volume vi, p. 371, 
note 183. For their periodical visits to their kinsfolk, the Arapaho, see Chittenden, 
Fur-Trade, ii, p. 852. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 229 

prairies in 'getting up' thunder-storms, combining so many 
of the elements of the awful and sublime. 

During these storms the guards were often very careless. 
This was emphatically the case with us, notwithstanding 
our knowledge of the proximity of a horde of savages. In 
fact, the caravan was subject to so little control that the 
patience of Capt. Stanley underwent some very severe trials; 
so much so [83] that he threatened more than once to resign. 
Truly, there is not a better^school for testing a man's temper, 
than the command of a promiscuous caravan of inde- 
pendent traders. The rank of captain is, of course, but little 
more than nominal. Every proprietor of a two-horse wagon 
is apt to assume as much authority as^ the commander him- 
self, and to issue his orders without the least consultation 
at head-quarters. It is easy then to conceive that the cap- 
tain has anything but an enviable berth. He is expected 
to keep order while few are disposed to obey — loaded with 
execrations for every mishap, whether accidental or other- 
wise; and when he attempts to remonstrate he only renders 
himself ridiculous, being entirely without power to enforce , 
his commands. It is to be regretted that some system of 
'maritime law' has not been introduced among these traders 
to secure subordination, which can never be attained while 
the commander is invested with no legal authority. For 
my own part, I can see no reason why the captain of a prairie 
caravan should not have as much power to call his men to 
account for disobedience or mutiny, as the captain of a ship 
upon the high seas. 

After following the course of the Cimarron for two days 
longer, we at length reached a place called the 'Willow Bar,'" 
where we took the usual mid-day respite of two or three 

'* The trail wound along the Cimarron River for over eighty miles (see our 
volume xvi, note 73), passing from Kansas through the southeast corner of Colorado 
into Oklahoma. Willow Bar was a well-known camping place, not far from the 
Colorado-Oklahoma border. — Ed. 

230 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

hours, to afford the animals time to feed, and our cooks to 
prepare dinner. Our wagons were regularly 'formed,' and 
the animals [84] turned loose to graze at leisure, with only 
a 'day-guard' to watch them. Those who had finished 
their dinners lay stretched upon their blankets, and were 
just beginning to enjoy the luxury of a siesta — when all of 
a sudden, the fearful and oft-reiterated cry of "Indians!" 
turned this scene of repose into one of bustle and confusion. 

From the opposite ridge at the distance of a mile, a swarm 
of savages were seen coming upon us, at full charge, and 
their hideous whoop and yell soon resounded through the 
valley. Such a jumbling of promiscuous voices I never 
expect to hear again. Every one fancied himself a com- 
mander, and vociferated his orders accordingly. The air 
was absolutely rent with the cries of "Let's charge 'em, 
boys!" — "Fire upon 'em, boys!" — "Reserve! don't fire till 
they come nearer!" — while the voice of our captain was 
scarcely distinguishable in his attempts to prevent such rash 
proceedings. As the prairie Indians often approach their 
friends as well as enemies in this way. Captain Stanley was 
unwilling to proceed to extremities, lest they might be peace- 
fully inclined. But a 'popping salute,' and the whizzing 
of fusil balls over our heads, soon explained their intentions. 
We returned them several rifle shots by way of compliment, 
but without effect, as they were at too great a distance. 

A dozen cannoniers now surrounded our 'artillery,' 
which was charged with canister. Each of them had, of 
course, something to [85] say. ' 'Elevate her ; she'll ground, '* 
one would suggest. "She'll overshoot, now," rejoined 
another. At last, after raising and lowering the six-pounder 
several times, during which process the Indians had time to 
retreat beyond reach of shot, the match was finally applied, 
and — bang ! went the gun, but the charge grounded mid- 
way. This was followed by two or three shots with single 

1831-1839] Gregg* s Commerce of the Prairies 231 

ball, but apparently without effect; although there were 
some with sharp eyes, who fancied they saw Indians or 
horses wounded at every fire. We came off equally un- 
scathed from the conflict, barring a horse of but little value, 
which ran away, and was taken by the enemy. The Indians 
were about a hundred in number, and supposed to be Co- 
manches, though they might have been a band of warriors 
belonging to the party we had just left behind. 

The novices were not a little discouraged at these frequent 
inroads of the enemy, although it is very seldom that any , 
lives are lost in encounters with them. In the course of 
twenty years since the commencement of this trade, I do not 
believe there have been a dozen deaths upon the Santa Fe 
route, even including those who have been killed off by 
disease, as well as by the Indians. 

On the following day we encamped near the 'Battle 
Ground,' famous for a skirmish which a caravan of traders, 
in company with a detachment of Mexican troops, under 
the command of Col. Vizcarra, had in 1829 with [86] a band 
of Gros Ventres. The united companies had just encamped 
on the Cimarron, near the site of the burial catastrophe 
which occurred the preceding year. A party of about a 
hundred and twenty Indians soon after approached them 
on foot; but as the Americans were but little disposed to 
admit friendly intercourse between them, they passed into 
the camp of the Mexican commander, who received them 
amicably — a circumstance not altogether agreeable to the 
traders. As the Indians seemed disposed to remain tiU 
morning, Col. Vizcarra promised that they should be dis- 
armed for the night; but the cunning wretches made some 
excuse to delay the surrender of their weapons, until the 
opportunity being favorable for a coup de main, they sprang 
to their feet, raised a fearful yell, and fired upon the un- 
suspecting party. Their aim seems chiefly to have been 

232 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

to take the life of the Mexican colonel; and it is said that a 
Taos Indian who formed one of the Mexican escort, seeing 
a gun levelled at his commander, sprang forward and re- 
ceived the ball in his own body, from the effects of which 
he instantly expired ! The Indians were pursued for several 
miles into the hills, and a considerable number killed and 
wounded. Of the Americans not one received the slightest 
injury; but of the Mexican dragoons, a captain and two or 
three privates were killed.^' 


A Beautiful Ravine — ' Runners ' Starting for Santa Fe — Fourth of 
July on the Prairies — The Cibolero or Buffalo-hunter — Mournful 
News of Captain Sublette's Company — Murder of Captain Smith 
and another of the party by the Indians — Carelessness and Risks of 
Hunters — Captain Sublette's Peril — Character and Pursuits of the 
Ciboleros — The Art of Curing Meat — Purity of the Atmosphere — 
The ' Round Mound ' — The Mirage or False Ponds — Philosophy 
thereof — Extensive and Interesting View — Exaggerated Accounts 
by Travellers of the Buffalo of the Prairies — Their Decrease — A 
' Stampede ' — Wagon Repairing — Rio Colorado or Canadian River 
— Meeting between old Friends — Mexican Escort — Disorganiz- 
ing of the Caravan — Dreadful Thunder-storm — First Symptoms 
of Civilization — San Miguel — Arrival at Santa F^ — Entry of the 
Caravan — First Hours of Recreation — Interpreters and Custom- 
house Arrangements — A Glance at the Trade, etc. 

It was on the last day of June that we arrived at the 
'Upper Spring,' which is a small fountain breaking into a 
ravine that declines towards the Cimarron some three or 
four miles to the north. ^* The scarcity of water in these 
desert regions, gives to every little spring an importance 
which, of course, in more favored countries it would not 
enjoy. We halted at noon on the brook below, and then 
branched off towards the waters of the Canadian, in an 

^ See another account of this aflFair, in Riley's report (note 30, ante). — Ed. 
" Upper Spring of the Cimarron was just beyond the New Mexican-Oklahoma 
boundary, and the usual point of departure from the Cimarron River. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 233 

average direction of about [88] thirty degrees south of west. 
As the wagon-road passes upon the adjacent ridge a quarter 
of a mile to the south of this spring, some of us, to procure 
a draught of its refreshing water, pursued a path along the 
ravine, winding through dense thickets of underbrush, 
matted with green-briers and grape-vines, which, with the 
wild-currant and plum-bushes, were all bent under their 
unripe fruit. The wildness of this place, with its tower- 
ing cliffs, craggy spurs, and deep-cut crevices, became 
doubly impressive to us, as we reflected that we were in the 
very midst of the most savage haunts. Often will the lonely 
traveller, as he plods his weary way in silence, imagine in 
each click of a pebble, the snap of a firelock, and in a very 
rebound of a twig, the whisk of an arrow. After regaling 
ourselves with a draught of the delicious beverage which 
gushed from the pure fountain, we ascended the rugged 
heights and rejoined the caravan half a mile beyond. 

We had now a plain and perfectly distinguishable track- 
before us, and a party of avant-couriers, known in the tech- 
nical parlance of the Prairies as 'runners,' soon began to 
make preparations for pushing forward in advance of the 
caravan into Santa Fe, though we were yet more than two 
hundred miles from that city. It is customary for these 
runners to take their departure from the caravans in the 
night, in order to evade the vigilance of any enemy that 
might be lurking around the encampment. They are gen- 
erally proprietors or [89] agents; and their principal purpose 
is to procure and send back a supply of provisions, to secure 
good store-houses, and what is no less important, to obtain 
an agreeable understanding with the officers of the custom- 

The second day after the departure of the runners, as we 
lay encamped at McNees's creek, the Fourth of July dawned 

2 34 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

upon us.^^ Scarce had gray twilight brushed his dusky 
brow, when our patriotic camp gave lively demonstrations 
of that joy which plays around the heart of every American 
on the anniversary of this triumphant day. The roar of 
our artillery and rifle platoons resounded from every hill, 
while the rumbling of the drum and the shrill whistle of the 
fife, imparted a degree of martial interest to the scene which 
was well calculated to stir the souls of men. There was no 
limit to the huzzas and enthusiastic ejaculations of our peo- 
ple; and at every new shout the dales around sent forth a 
gladsome response. This anniversary is always hailed 
with heart-felt joy by the wayfarer in the remote desert; for 
here the strifes and intrigues of party-spirit are unknown: 
nothing intrudes, in these wild solitudes, to mar that har- 
mony of feeling, and almost pious exultation, which every 
true-hearted American experiences on this great day. 

The next day's march brought us in front of the Rabbit- 
Ear Mounds, ^^ which might now be seen at a distance of 
eight or ten miles south of us, and which before the present 
track was established, served as a guide to travellers. [90] 
The first caravan of wagons that crossed these plains, passed 
on the south side of these mounds, having abandoned our 
present route at the 'Cold Spring,' where we encamped on 
the night of the ist of July. Although the route we were 
travelling swerves somewhat too much to the north, that 
pursued by the early caravans as stated above, made still 
a greater circuit to the south, and was by far the most in- 

'* McNees Creek, so-called because of the tragedy in which that young man 
was killed (seea«te, p. 183), was the one now known as Currampaw Creek, in Union 
County, New Mexico, constituting the upper waters of Beaver Creek, which is an 
affluent of the North Fork of the Canadian. — Ed. 

^ Rabbit Ear Mounds are in eastern Union County, New Mexico, just north 
of Clayton, the county seat, on the Colorado and Southern Railway. They are 
named from a fancied resemblance to rabbit's ears, and are almost the first eleva- 
tions seen after crossing the Cimarron plain. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 235 

As we were proceeding on our march, we observed a 
horseman approaching, who excited at first considerable 
curiosity. His picturesque costume, and peculiarity of 
deportment, however, soon showed him to be a Mexican 
Cibolero or buffalo-hunter. These hardy devotees of the 
chase usually wear leathern trousers and jackets, and flat 
straw hats; while, swung upon the shoulder of each hangs 
his carcage or quiver of bow and arrows. The long handle 
of their lance being set in a case, and suspended by the side 
with a strap from the pommel of the saddle, leaves the point 
waving high over the head, with a tassel of gay parti-colored 
stuffs dangling at the tip of the scabbard. Their fusil, if 
they happen to have one, is suspended in like manner at the 
other side, with a stopper in the muzzle fantastically tas- 

The Cibolero saluted us with demonstrations of joy; nor 
were we less delighted at meeting with him ; for we were now 
able to obtain information from Santa Fe, whence no news 
had been received since [91] the return of the caravan the 
preceding fall. Traders and idlers, with equal curiosity, 
clustered around the new visitor ; every one who could speak 
a word of Spanish having some question to ask: — "What 
prospects?" — "How are goods?" — "What news from the 
South?" — while the more experienced traders interested 
themselves chiefly to ascertain the condition of the custom- 
house, and who were the present revenue officers; for unpro- 
pitious changes sometimes occur during the absence of the 

But whatever joy we at first experienced was soon con- 
verted into mourning, by a piece of most melancholy news 
— the tragical death of a celebrated veteran mountain ad- 
venturer. It has already been mentioned that Capt. Sub- 
lette and others had started near a month in advance of our 
company. We had frequently seen their trail, and once 

236 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

or twice had received some vague information of their where- 
abouts through the Indians, but nothing satisfactory. Our 
visitor now informed us that a captain of this band had been 
assassinated by the Indians; and from his description we 
presumed it to be Capt. Smith, one of the partners, — which 
was afterwards confirmed, with many particulars of the 
adventures of this company. 

Capt. Smith and his companions were new beginners in the 
Santa Fe trade, but being veteran pioneers of the Rocky 
y Mountains, they concluded they could go anywhere; and 
\ imprudently set out without a single person [92] in their 
company at all competent to guide them on the route. They 
had some twenty-odd wagons, and about eighty men. There 
being a plain track to the Arkansas river, they did very well 
thus far; but from thence to the Cimarron, not a single trail 
was to be found, save the innumerable buffalo paths, with 
which these plains are furrowed, and which are exceedingly 
perplexing to the bewildered prairie traveller. In a great 
many places which I have observed, they have all the ap- 
pearance of immense highways, over which entire armies 
would seem to have frequently passed. They generally 
lead from one watering place to another; but as these reser- 
voirs very often turn out to be dry, the thirsty traveller who 
follows them in search of water, is liable to constant dis- 

When Capt. Sublette's party entered this arid plain, it 
was parched with drought; and they were doomed to wander 
about for several days, with all the horrors of a death from 
thirst staring them continually in the face. In this perilous 
situation, Capt. Smith resolved at last to pursue one of these 
seductive buffalo paths, in hopes it might lead to the margin 
of some stream or pond. He set out alone; for besides the 
temerity which desperation always inspires, he had ever 
been a stranger to fear; indeed, he was one of the most un- 

183 1- 183 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 237 

daunted spirits that had ever traversed the Rocky Moun- 
tains; and if but one-half of what has been told of him be 
true, — of his bold enterprises — his perilous wanderings — 
[93] his skirmishings with the savages — his hair-breadth 
escapes, etc. — he would surely be entitled to one of the 
most exalted seats in the Olympus of Prairie mythology. 
But, alas ! unfortunate Captain Smith ! after having so often 
dodged the arrow and eluded the snare of the wily Mountain 
Indian, little could he have thought, while jogging along 
under a scorching sun, that his bones were destined to 
bleach upon those arid sands! He had already wandered 
many miles away from his comrades, when, on turning over 
an eminence, his eyes were joyfully greeted with the appear- 
ance of a small stream meandering through the valley that 
spread before him. It was the Cimarron. He hurried for- 
ward to slake the fire of his parched lips — but, imagine his 
disappointment, at finding in the channel only a bed of dry 
sand! With his hands, however, he soon scratched out a 
basin a foot or two deep, into which the water slowly oozed 
from the saturated sand. While with his head bent down, 
in the effort to quench his burning thirst in the fountain, he 
was pierced by the arrows of a gang of Comanches, who 
were lying in wait for him! Yet he struggled bravely to 
the last; and, as the Indians themselves have since related, 
killed two or three of their party before he was overpowered." 

" Jedediah S. Smith was one of the most remarkable men in the early Western 
fur-trade. Bom in New York, where he was well educated, he came west while 
still a youth, and entered the service of General Ashley, of the Rocky Mountain 
Fur Company. He first acquired public notice by his intrepidity in the Arikara 
campaign of 1823, and at its close volunteered to take a message to Andrew Henry, 
on the Yellowstone — a perilous journey which he performed with address. During 
the following year he trapped upon the Yellowstone and Snake rivers, and visited 
the Hudson's Bay Company's post among the Flatheads. His report of this visit 
and the operations of the British was included in a message to the United States 
war department. In 1824 he entered the Rocky Mountain Fur Company as a ^ 
partner, and for two years seconded Ashley's efforts with marked success. In 
1826, forming a partnership with Jackson and Sublette, they purchased the rights 


238 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

Every kind of fatality seems to have attended this Httle 
caravan. Among other calamities, we also learned that a 
clerk in their company, named Minter, had been killed by 
[94] a band of Pawnees, before they crossed the Arkansas. 
This, I believe, is the only instance of loss of life among the 
traders while engaged in hunting: although the scarcity of 
accidents can hardly be said to be the result of prudence. 
There is not a day, from the time a caravan reaches the 
'buffalo range,' that hunters do not commit some indiscretion, 
such as straying at a distance of five and even ten miles from 
the caravan, frequently alone, and seldom in bands of more 
than two or three together. In this state, they must fre- 
quently be spied by prowling savages; so that the frequency 
of escape, under such circumstances, must be partly at- 
tributed to the cowardice of the Indians: indeed, generally 
speaking, the latter are very loth to charge upon even a 
single armed man, unless they can take him at a decided 
disadvantage. Therefore, it is at all times imprudent to 
fire at the first approach of Indians; for, seeing their guns 
empty, the savages would charge upon them; while very 
small bands of hunters have been known to keep large num- 

of the company, whereupon Smith began a series of explorations, designed to open 
up new territory, in the course of which he traversed immense reaches of the Far 
West. Leaving Salt Lake in August, 1826, he descended the Colorado, crossed 
the Cahfornia deserts to San Diego; proceeding north, parallel to the coast, some 
fifty miles or more in the interior, he wintered on Sacramento River, and crossed 
to the Salt Lake post by June, 1827. Returning to California, he wintered once 
more in its northern regions, advancing north the following spring until he reached 
the Umpquah River, where all but three of his party were slain by Indians. Escap- 
ing to Fort Vancouver, Smith was hospitably treated by Dr. McLoughlin, the 
British factor. His furs recovered and purchased, he was permitted to remain 
until the spring of 1829, when he ascended the Columbia and Snake in August, join- 
ing his partners on the headwaters of the latter river. The following year, the firm 
sold out and embarked in the Santa Fe trade, with the disastrous consequences 
which Gregg relates. Smith was a man of strong Christian character and 
undaunted courage. His contributions to geographical knowledge were con- 
siderable, and were to have been embodied in an atlas, had he not met so untimely 
a death. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 239 

bers of the enemy at bay, by presenting their rifles, but re- 
serving their fire, tUl assistance was at hand. 

The companions of Capt. Smith, having descended upon 
the Cimarron at another point, appear to have remained 
ignorant of the terrible fate that had befallen him, until 
they were informed of the circumstances by some Mexican 
traders, who had ascertained the facts from the murderous 
savages themselves. [95] Not long after, this band of Capt. 
Sublette very narrowly escaped a total destruction. They 
had fallen in with that immense horde of Blackfeet and Gros 
Ventres, with whom we afterwards met, and, as the traders 
were literally but a handful among their thousands, they 
fancied themselves for awhile in imminent peril of being 
virtually 'eaten up.' But as Capt. Sublette possessed con- 
siderable experience, he was at no loss how to deal with 
these treacherous savages; so that although the latter as- 
sumed a menacing attitude, he passed them without any 
serious molestation, and finally arrived at Santa Fe in 

But to return to our Cibolero. He was desirous to sell 
us some provisions, which, by the by, were welcome enough; 
for most of the company were out of bread, and meat was 
becoming very scarce, having seen but few buffalo since our 
first encounter with the Indians on the Cimarron. Our 
visitor soon retired to his camp hard by, and, with several 
of his comrades, afterwards brought us an abundance of dry 
buffalo beef, and some bags of coarse oven-toasted loaves, 
a kind of hard bread, much used by Mexican travellers. 
It is prepared by opening the ordinary leavened rolls, and 
toasting them brown in an oven. Though exceedingly 
hard and insipid while dry, it becomes not only soft but 
palatable when soaked in water — or better still in 'hot 
coffee.' But what we procured on this occasion was un- 
usually stale and coarse, prepared [96] expressly for barter 

240 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

with the Comanches, in case they should meet any: yet 
bread was bread, emphatically, with us just then. 

A word concerning the Ciboleros may not be altogether 
uninteresting. Every year, large parties of New-Mexicans, 
some provided with mules and asses, others with carretas 
or truckle-carts and oxen, drive out into these prairies to 
procure a supply of buffalo beef for their families. They 
hunt, like the wild Indians, chiefly on horseback, and with 
bow and arrow, or lance, with which they soon load their 
carts and mules. They find no difficulty in curing their 
meat even in mid-summer, by slicing it thin and spreading 
or suspending it in the sun ; or, if in haste, it is slightly barbe- 
cued. During the curing operation they often follow the 
Indian practice of beating or kneading the slices with their 
feet, which they contend contributes to its preservation. 

Here the extraordinary purity of the atmosphere is re- 
markably exemplified. The caravans cure meat in the 
same simple manner, except the process of kneading. A 
line is stretched from corner to corner on each side of a 
wagon-body, and strung with slices of beef, which remains 
from day to day till it is sufficiently cured to be stacked 
away. This is done without salt, and yet it very rarely 
putrifies. In truth, as blow-flies are unknown here, there 
is nothing to favor putrefaction. While speaking of flies, 
I might [97] as weU remark, that, after passing beyond the 
region of the tall grass, between the Missouri frontier and 
Arkansas river, the horse-fly also is unknown. Judging 
from the prairies on our border, we had naturally antici- 
pated a great deal of mischief from these brute-tormentors; 
in which we were very agreeably disappointed. 

But I have not yet done with the meat-curing operations. 
While in the midst of the buffalo range, travellers usually 
take the precaution of laying up a supply of beef for ex- 
igencies in the absence of the 'prairie cattle.' We had 

1831-1839] G^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 241 

somewhat neglected this provision in time of abundance, 
by which we had come near being reduced to extremities. 
Caravans sometimes lie by a day or two to provide a supply 
of meat; when numbers of bufifalo are slaughtered, and the 
flesh 'jerked,' or slightly barbecued, by placing it upon a 
scaffold over a fire. The same method is resorted to by 
Mexicans when the weather is too damp or cloudy for the 
meat to dry in the open air. 

We were now approaching the 'Round Mound,' a beauti- 
ful round-topped cone, rising nearly a thousand feet above 
the level of the plain by which it is for the most part sur- 
rounded.*^ We were yet at least three miles from this 
mound, when a party set out on foot to ascend it, in order 
to get a view of the surrounding country. They felt con- 
fident it was but half a mile off — at most, three-quarters; 
but finding the distance so much greater than they had 
anticipated, many began to lag behind, [98] and soon re- 
joined the wagons. The optical illusions occasioned by 
the rarified and transparent atmosphere of these elevated 
plains, are often truly remarkable, affording another exem- 
plification of its purity. One would almost fancy himself 
looking through a spy-glass, for objects frequently ap- 
pear at scarce one-fourth of their real distance — frequently 
much magnified, and more especially elevated. I have 
often seen flocks of antelopes mistaken for droves of elks 
or wild horses, and when at a great distance, even for horse- 
men; whereby frequent alarms are occasioned. I have 
also known tufts of grass or weeds, or mere buffalo bones 
scattered on the prairies, to stretch upward to the height of 
several feet, so as to present the appearance of so many 
human beings. Ravens in the same way are not unfre- 

" The nomenclature of the maps of New Mexico changed greatly between 1872 
and 1879, due probably to surveys for railroads in that period, and to public land 
surveys. Round Mound, which appears in all early cartography, seems to have 
been an outlj-ing spur of the present Don Carlos range, in Union County. — Ed. 

242 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

quently taken for Indians, as well as for buffalo ; and a herd 
of the latter upon a distant plain often appear so increased 
in bulk that they would be mistaken by the inexperienced for 
a grove of trees. This is usually attended with a continual 
waving and looming, which often so writhe and distort dis- 
tant objects as to render them too indistinct to be discrim- 
inated. The illusion seems to be occasioned by gaseous 
vapors rising from the ground while the beaming rays of 
the sun are darting upon it. 

But the most curious, and at the same time the most per- 
plexing phenomenon, occasioned by optical deception, is 
the mirage^ or, as familiarly called upon the Prairies, the 
'false [99] ponds.' Even the experienced traveller is often 
deceived by these upon the arid plains, where a disappoint- 
ment is most severely felt. The thirsty wayfarer, after 
jogging for hours under a burning sky, at length espies a 
pond — yes, it must be water — it looks too natural for 
him to be mistaken. He quickens his pace, enjoying in 
anticipation the pleasure of a refreshing draught: but lo! 
as he approaches, it recedes or entirely disappears; and 
when upon its apparent site, he is ready to doubt his own 
vision — he finds but a parched plain under his feet. It 
is not until he has been thus a dozen times deceived, that 
he is willing to relinquish the pursuit: and then, perhaps, 
when he really does see a pond, he will pass it unexamined, 
for fear of another disappointment. 

The philosophy of these 'false ponds' seems generally not 
well understood. They have usually been attributed to re- 
]r action, by which a section of the bordering sky would appear 
below the horizon : but there can be no doubt that they are 
the effect of reflection, upon a gas emanating perhaps from 
the sun-scorched earth and vegetable matter. Or it may 
be that a surcharge of carbonic acid, precipitated upon the 
flats and sinks of those plains, by the action of the sun, pro- 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 243 

duces the effect. At least, it appears of sufficient density, 
when viewed very obliquely, to reflect the objects beyond: 
and thus the opposite sky being reflected in the pond of gas, 
gives the appearance of water. As a proof that it is the 
effect [100] of reflection, I have often observed the distant 
trees and hilly protuberances which project above the hori- 
zon beyond, distinctly inverted in the 'pond;' whereas, were 
it the result of refraction, these would appear erect, only 
cast below the surface. Indeed, many are the singular 
atmospheric phenomena observable upon the plains, which 
would afford a field of interesting research for the curious 
natural philosopher. 

At last, some of the most persevering of our adventurers 
succeeded in ascending the summit of the Round Mound, 
which commands a full and advantageous view of the sur- 
rounding country, in some directions to the distance of a 
hundred miles or more. Looking southward a varied coun- 
try is seen, of hills, plains, mounds, and sandy undulations; 
but on the whole northern side, extensive plains spread out, 
studded occasionally with variegated peaks and ridges. 
Far beyond these, to the north-westward, and low in the 
horizon a silvery stripe appears upon an azure base, re- 
sembling a list of chalk-white clouds. This is the peren- 
nially snow-capped summit of the eastern spur of the Rocky 

These immense bordering plains, and even the hills with 
which they are interspersed, are wholly destitute of timber, 
except a chance scattering tree upon the margins of the 
bluffs and ravines, which but scantily serves to variegate 
the landscape. Not even a buffalo was now to be seen to 
relieve the dull monotony [loi] of the scene; although at 
some seasons (and particularly in the fall) these prairies are 
literally strewed with herds of this animal. Then, 'thou- 
sands and tens of thousands' might at times be seen 

244 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

from this eminence. But the buffalo is a migratory ani- 
mal, and even in the midst of the Prairies where they 
are generally so very abundant, we sometimes travel for 
days without seeing a single one; though no signs of 
hunter or Indian can be discovered. To say the truth, 
however, I have never seen them anywhere upon the 
Prairies so abundant as some travellers have represented 
— in dense masses, darkening the whole country. I have 
only found them in scattered herds, of a few scores, hundreds, 
or sometimes thousands in each, and where in the greatest 
numbers, dispersed far and wide; but with large intervals 
between. Yet they are very sensibly and rapidly decreas- 
ing. There is a current notion that the whites frighten 
them away; but, I would ask, where do they go to? To 
be sure, to use a hunter's phrase, they 'frighten a few out 
of their skins;' yet for every one killed by the whites, more 
than a hundred, perhaps a thousand, fall by the hands of 
the savages. From these, however, there is truly 'nowhere 
to flee ; ' for they follow them wheresoever they go : while the 
poor brutes instinctively learn to avoid the fixed establish- 
ments, and, to some degree, the regular travelling routes of 
the whites. 

As the caravan was passing under the northern base of 
the Round Mound, it presented [102] a very fine and im- 
posing spectacle to those who were upon its summit. The 
wagons marched slowly in four parallel colunms, but in 
broken lines, often at intervals of many rods between. The 
imceasing 'crack, crack,' of the wagoners' whips, resem- 
bling the frequent reports of distant guns, almost made one 
believe that a skirmish was actually taking place between 
two hostile parties: and a hostile engagement it virtually 
was to the poor brutes, at least; for the merciless application 
of the whip would sometimes make the blood spurt from 
their sides — and that often without any apparent motive 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 247 

of the wanton carrettieri, other than to amuse themselves 
with the flourishing and loud popping of their lashes ! 

The rear wagons are usually left without a guard; for all 
the loose horsemen incline to be ahead, where they are to 
be seen moving in scattered groups, sometimes a mile or 
more in advance. As our camp was pitched but a mile 
west of the Round Mound, those who lingered upon its 
summit could have an interesting view of the evolutions of 
'forming' the wagons, in which the drivers by this time had 
become very expert. When marching four abreast, the 
two exterior lines spread out and then meet at the front 
angle; while the two inner lines keep close together until 
they reach the point of the rear angle, when they wheel sud- 
denly out and close with the hinder ends of the other two; 
thus systematically concluding a right-lined quadrangle, 
with a gap left at the rear corner for the introduction of the 

[103] Our encampment was in a beautiful plain, but 
without water, of which, however, we had had a good supply 
at noon. Our cattle, as was the usual custom, after having 
grazed without for a few hours, were now shut up in the pen 
of the wagons. Our men were all wrapt in peaceful slum- 
ber, except the guard, who kept their silent watch around 
the encampment; when all of a sudden, about the ominous 
hour of midnight, a tremendous uproar was heard, which 
caused every man to start in terror from his blanket couch, 
with arms in hand. Some animal, it appeared, had taken 
fright at a dog, and by a sudden start, set all around him 
in violent motion : the panic spread simultaneously through- 
out the pen; and a scene of rattle, clash, and 'lumbering,' 
ensued, which far surpassed everything we had yet wit- 
nessed. A general 'stampede' (estampida, as the Mexicans 
say) was the result. Notwithstanding the wagons were 
tightly bound together, wheel to wheel, with ropes or chains. 

248 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

and several stretched across the gaps at the corners of the 
corral^ the oxen soon burst their way out ; and though mostly 
yoked in pairs, they went scampering over the plains, as 
though Tam O'Shanter's 'cutty-sark' Nannie had been at 
their tails. All attempts to stop them were vain; for it 
would require 'Auld Clootie' himself to check the headway 
of a drove of oxen, when once thoroughly frightened. Early 
the following morning we made active exertions to get up 
a sufficient quantity of teams to start [104] the caravan. 
At Rock Creek, a distance of six or seven miles, we were 
joined by those who had gone in pursuit of the stock. ®^ All 
the oxen were found, except some half a dozen, which were 
never recovered. No mules were lost : a few that had broken 
loose were speedily retaken. The fact is, that though mules 
are generally easiest scared, oxen are decidedly the worst 
when once started. The principal advantage of the latter 
in this respect, is, that Indians have but little inducement 
to steal them, and therefore few attempts would be made 
upon a caravan of oxen. 

We were now entering a region of rough, and in some 
places, rocky road, as the streams which intervene from 
this to the mountains are all bordered with fine sandstone. 
These rugged passes acted very severely upon our wagons, 
as the wheels were by this time becoming loose and 'shack- 
ling,' from the shrink of the wood, occasioned by the ex- 
treme dryness and rarity of this elevated atmosphere. The 
spokes of some were beginning to reel in the hubs, so that 
it became necessary to brace them with 'false spokes, ' firm- 
ly bound with 'buffalo tug.' On some occasions, the wagon 
tires have become so loose upon the felloes as to tumble off 
while travelling. The most effective mode of tightening 
slackened tires (at least that most practiced on the plains, 

"' Rock Creek is one of the upper waters of Ute Creek, the first tributary of the 
Canadian met upon the trail. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 249 

as there is rarely a portable forge in company), is by driving 
strips of hoop-iron around between the tire and felloe — 
simple wedges of wood are sometimes made to supply the 
place [105] of iron. During halts I have seen a dozen 
wheels being repaired at the same time, occasioning such 
a clitter-clatter of hammers, that one would almost fancy 
himself in a ship-yard. 

Emerging from this region of asperities, we soon passed 
the 'Point of Rocks,' as a diminutive 'spur' projecting 
from the north is called, at the foot of which springs a charm- 
ing little fount of water. This is but thirty or forty miles 
from the principal mountains, along whose border, similar 
detached ridges and hills are frequently to be seen. The 
next day, having descended from the table plain, we reached 
the principal branch of the Canadian river, which is here 
but a rippling brook, hardly a dozen paces in width, though 
eighty miles from its source in the mountains to the north.'" 
The bottom being of solid rock, this ford is appropriately 
called by the ciboleros, el Vado de Piedras. The banks are 
very low and easy to ascend. The stream is called Rio 
Colorado by the Mexicans, and is known among Americans 
by its literal translation of Red River. This circumstance 
perhaps gave rise to the belief that it was the head branch 
of our main stream of this name:" but the [106] nearest 

'" Point of Rocks is a southern spur of the Raton range, near the parallel sep- 
arating Colfax and Mora counties. 

For the Canadian River and its exploration, consult our volume xiii, p. 231, 
note 188; xvi, p. 191, note 94. — Ed. 

" Previous to the year 1820, this 'Rio Colorado^ seems universally to have been 
considered as the principal source of Red River; but in the expedition of Maj. 
Long, during that year, he discovered this to be the head branch of the Canadian. 
The discovery cost him somewhat dearly too; for striking a branch of the Col- 
orado near the Mountains, he followed down its course, believing it to be of the 
main Red River. He was not fully undeceived till he arrived at its junction with 
the Arkansas; whereby he failed in a principal object of the expedition — the ex- 
ploration of the true sources of 'Red River of Natchitoches.' — Gregg. 

Comment by Ed. See our reprint in volumes xiv-xvii. 

250 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

waters of the legitimate 'Red River of Natchitoches,' are 
still a hundred miles to the south of this road. 

In descending to the Rio Colorado, we met a dozen or 
more of our countrymen from Taos, to which town (sixty 
or seventy miles distant) there is a direct but rugged route 
across the mountains." It was a joyous encounter, for 
among them we found some of our old acquaintances whom 
we had not seen for many years. During our boyhood we 
had 'spelt' together in the same country school, and roamed 
the wild woods with many a childish glee. They turned 
about with us, and the remainder of our march was passed 
in answering their inquiries after their relatives and friends 
in the United States. 

Before reaching the stream, we encountered another party 
of visitors, being chiefly custom-house agents or clerks, 
who, accompanied by a military escort, had come out to 
guard the caravan to the Capital. The ostensible purpose 
of this escort was to prevent smuggling, — a company of 
troops being thus dispatched every year, with strict injunc- 
tions to watch the caravans. This custom appears since 
to have nearly grown out of use: and well might it be dis- 
continued altogether, for any one disposed to smuggle would 
find no difficulty in securing the services of these preventive 
guards, who, for a trifling douceur^ would prove very efficient 
auxiliaries, rather than obstacles to the success of any such 
designs. As we were forming in the valley opposite [107] 
where the escort was encamped. Col. Vizcarra, the com- 
mandant, honored us with a salute from his artillery, which 
was promptly responded to by our little cannon. 

Considering ourselves at last out of danger of Indian 
hostilities (although still nearly a hundred and forty miles 
from Santa Fe) ; and not unwilling to give our 'guard ' as 

'^ For Taos, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, note 44. The upper, 
or mountain route to Santa Fe went by way of Taos. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 251 

much trouble as possible, we abandoned the organization 
of our caravan a few miles beyond the Colorado; its members 
wending their way to the Capital in almost as many de- 
tached parties as there were proprietors. The road from 
this to San Miguel (a town nearly a hundred miles distant), 
leads in a southwestern direction along the base of, and 
almost parallel with, that spur of snow-clad mountains, 
which has already been mentioned, bearing down east of 
the Rio del Norte. 

This region is particularly celebrated for violent showers, 
hail-storms, and frightful thunder-gusts. The sudden cool- 
ing and contraction of the atmosphere which follows these 
falls of rain, very often reverses the current of the lower 
stratum of air; so that a cloud which has just ceased pour- 
ing its contents and been wafted away, is in a few minutes 
brought back, and drenches the traveller with another tor- 
rent. I was deeply impressed with a scene I witnessed in 
the summer of 1832, about two days' journey beyond the 
Colorado, which I may be excused for alluding to in this 
connection. We were encamped at noon, when a murky 
cloud issued from [108] behind the mountains, and, after 
hovering over us for a few minutes, gave vent to one of those 
tremendous peals of thunder which seem peculiar to those 
regions, making the elements tremble, and leaving us so 
stunned and confounded that some seconds elapsed before 
each man was able to convince himself that he had not been 
struck by lightning. A sulphureous stench filled the atmos- 
phere; but the thunderbolt had skipped over the wagons 
and lighted upon the cahallada, which was grazing hard by; 
some of which were afterward seen stretched upon the plain. 
It was not a little singular to find an ox lying lifeless from 
the stroke, while his mate stood uninjured by his side, and 
under the same yoke. 

Some distance beyond the Colorado, a party of about a 

252 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

dozen (which I joined) left the wagons to go ahead to Santa 
Fe. Fifty miles beyond the main branch of this stream 
we passed the last of the Canadian waters, known to foreign- 
ers as the Mom." From thence to the Gallinas,''* the first 
of the Rio del Norte waters, the road stretches over an ele- 
vated plain, unobstructed by any mountainous ridge. At 
Gallinas creek, we found [109] a large flock of sheep graz- 
ing upon the adjacent plain; while a little hovel at the foot 
of a cliff showed it to be a rancho. A swarthy rancher 
soon made his appearance, from whom we procured a treat 
of goat's milk, with some dirty ewe's milk 'curdle cheese' 
to supply the place of bread. ^^ 

Some twenty miles from this place we entered San Miguel, 
the first settlement of any note upon our route. This con- 
sists of irregular clusters of mud-wall huts, and is situated 
in the fertile valley of Rio Pecos, a silvery little river which 
ripples from the snowy mountains of Santa Fe — from 
which city this frontier village is nearly fifty miles to the 

" As mora means mulberry, and this fruit is to be found at the mouth of this 
stream, one would suppose that it had acquired its name from that fact, did not 
the Mexicans always call it Rio de lo de Mora, thus leaving it to be inferred that 
the name had originated from some individual called Mora, who had settled 
upon it. — Gregg. 

Comment by Ed. River Mora was named for the abundance of that fruit grow- 
ing on its banks. It is a swift mountain stream, tributary of the Canadian. In 
irrigating months, it is in that manner now entirely drained of its waters. The 
river gives its name to a New Mexican county, important for its agricultural pro- 
ducts. It was first settled in 1832; but, exposed to Indian depredations, it had few 
inhabitants until after 1840. American troops burned the town of Mora in 1847. 

'* Called Rio de las Gallinas by Mexicans. Though gallina is Uterally hen, 
it is here also applied to the turkey (usually with a 'surname,' as gallina de la tierra) . 
It is therefore Turkey river. — Gregg. 

'* This was the first dwelling in Las Vegas, now a thriving city of ten thousand 
inhabitants, the second in size in New Mexico. It was definitely colonized in 1835, 
and eleven years later Wislizenus found there over a hundred houses. Las Vegas 
is noted as a health resort; the Hot Springs, five miles distant, are much frequented 
by convalescents. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 253 

southeast." The road makes this great southern bend, 
to find a passway through the broken extremity of the spur 
of mountains before alluded to, which from this point south 
is cut up into detached ridges and table plains. This moun- 
tain section of the road, even in its present unimproved con- 
dition, presents but few difficult passes, and might, with 
little labor, be put in good order. 

A few miles before reaching the city, the road again 
emerges into an open plain. Ascending a table ridge, we 
spied in an extended valley to the northwest, occasional 
groups of trees, skirted with verdant corn and wheat fields, 
with here and there a square block-like protuberance reared 
in the midst. A little further, and just ahead of us to the 
north, irregular clusters of the same opened to our view. 
"Oh, we are approaching the suburbs!" [no] thought I, 
on perceiving the cornfields, and what I supposed to be 
brick-kilns scattered in every direction. These and other 
observations of the same nature becoming audible, a friend 
at my elbow said, 'Tt is true those are heaps of unburnt 
bricks, nevertheless they are houses — this is the city of 
Santa Fe." 

Five or six days after our arrival, the caravan at last hove 
in sight, and wagon after wagon was seen pouring down the 
last declivity at about a mile's distance from the city. To 
judge from the clamorous rejoicings of the men, and the 
state of agreeable excitement which the muleteers seemed 
to be laboring under, the spectacle must have been as new 
to the m as it had been to me. It was truly a scene for the 

" The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, having followed the mountain 
trail, coincides with the Cimarron route from about the present town of Springer. 
A detour to the south is made in order to pass the mountains. At its extremity is 
San Miguel, a customs frontier and during the days of the Santa Fe trade a con- 
siderable Mexican town; it is now a hamlet of less than five hundred inhabitants. 

For Pecos River and a brief sketch of Santa Fe, see our volume xviii, pp. 76, 77, 
notes 48, 49. — Ed. 

254 ^arly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

artist's pencil to revel in. Even the animals seemed to 
participate in the humor of their riders, who grew more and 
more merry and obstreperous as they descended towards 
the city. I doubt, in short, whether the first sight of the 
walls of Jerusalem were beheld by the crusaders with much 
more tumultuous and soul-enrapturing joy. 

The arrival produced a great deal of bustle and excite- 
ment among the natives. ^^Los Americanos!'' — "Los car- 
ros!" — "La entrada de la caravanaV were to be heard in 
every direction; and crowds of women and boys flocked 
around to see the new-comers; while crowds of leperos hung 
about as usual to see what they could pilfer. The wagoners 
were by no means free from excitement on this occasion, 
[ill] Informed of the 'ordeal' they had to pass, they had 
spent the previous morning in 'rubbing up;' and now they 
were prepared, with clean faces, sleek combed hair, and their 
choicest Sunday suit, to meet the 'fair eyes' of glistening 
black that were sure to stare at them as they passed. There 
was yet another preparation to be made in order to 'show 
off' to advantage. Each wagoner must tie a bran new 
'cracker' to the lash of his whip; for, on driving through 
the streets and the plaza puhlica, every one strives to outvie 
his comrades in the dexterity with which he flourishes this 
favorite badge of his authority. 

Our wagons were soon discharged in the ware-rooms of 
the Custom-house; and a few days' leisure being now at our 
disposal, we had time to take that recreation which a fatiguing 
journey of ten weeks had rendered so necessary. The 
wagoners, and many of the traders, particularly the novices, 
flocked to the numerous fandangoes, which are regularly 
kept up after the arrival of a caravan. But the merchants 
generally were anxiously and actively engaged in their 
affairs — striving who should first get his goods out of the 
custom-house, and obtain a chance at the 'hard chink' of 

183 1 -1 83 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 255 

the numerous country dealers, who annually resort to the 
capital on these occasions. 

Now comes the harvest for those idle interpreters, who 
make a business of 'passing goods,' as they term it; for as 
but a small portion of the traders are able to write the Span- 
ish language, they are obliged to employ [112] these legal 
go-betweens, who pledge themselves, for a stipulated fee, to 
make the 'arrangements,' and translate the manifestos 
(that is, bills of merchandise to be manifested at the custom- 
house), and to act the part of interpreters throughout. 

The inspection ensues, but this is rarely carried on with 
rigid adherence to rules; for an 'actuated sympathy' for the 
merchants, and a 'specific desire' to promote the trade, cause 
the inspector to open a few of such packages only, as will 
exhibit the least discrepancy with the manifest. 

The derechos de arancel (tariff imposts) of Mexico are 
extremely oppressive, averaging about a hundred per cent, 
upon the United States' cost of an ordinary 'Santa Fe assort- 
ment.' Those on cotton textures are particularly so. Ac- 
cording to the Arancel of 1837 (and it was still heavier be- 
fore), all plain-wove cottons, whether white or printed, pay 
twelve and a half cents duty per vara, besides the derecho 
de consume (consumption duty), which brings it up to at 
least fifteen. But it is scarcely necessary to add that there 
are believed to be very few ports in the Republic at which 
these rigid exactions are strictly executed. An 'arrange- 
ment' — a compromise is expected, in which the officers 
are sure at least to provide for themselves. At some ports, 
a custom has been said to prevail, of dividing the legal 
duties into three equal parts : one for the ofi&cers — a second 
for the merchants — the other for the government. 

[113] For a few years, Gov. Armijo of Santa Fe," estab- 

^' Manuel Armijo was a native of New Mexico, who was appointed governor 
for one term, in 1827-28. Taking advantage of the revolt of 1837-38, he succeeded 

256 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

lished a tariff of his own, entirely arbitrary, — exacting five 
hundred dollars for each wagon-load, whether large or 
small — of fine or coarse goods ! Of course this was very 
advantageous to such traders as had large wagons and cost- 
ly assortments, while it was no less onerous to those with 
smaller vehicles or coarse heavy goods. As might have been 
anticipated, the traders soon took to conveying their mer- 
chandise only in the largest wagons, drawn by ten or twelve 
mules, and omitting the coarser and more weighty articles 
of trade. This caused the governor to return to an ad val- 
orem system, though still without regard to the Arancel 
general of the nation. How much of these duties found 
their way into the public treasury, I will not venture to 

The arrival of a caravan at Santa Fe changes the aspect 
of the place at once. Instead of the idleness and stagnation 
which its streets exhibited before, one now sees everywhere 
the bustle, noise and activity of a lively market town. As 
the Mexicans very rarely speak English, the negotiations 
are mostly conducted in Spanish. 

Taking the circuit of the stores, I found they usually con- 
tained general assortments, much like those to be met with 
in the retail variety stores of the west. The stocks of the 
inexperienced merchants are apt to abound in unsalable 
goods — mulas, as the Mexicans figuratively term them. 

[114] Although a fair variety of dry goods, silks, hard- 
ware, &c., is to be found in this market, domestic cottons, 
laoth bleached and brown, constitute the great staple, of 
which nearly equal quantities ought to enter into a 'Santa 

in securing the position of governor, which he maintained, with one brief interval, 
until the American invasion (1846). His connection with the revolt of 1837, and 
with the Texan expedition of 1841, is described by Gregg, post, and Kendall, Santa 
Fe Expedition. Upon the approach of the American army, Armijo prepared 
defenses, but abandoned them wdthout striking a blow, and retreated to Mexico. 
Armijo ruled as an absolute despot, and was disliked by both New Mexicans and 
Americans. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 257 

Fe assortment. ' The demand for these goods is such that 
at least one half of our stocks of merchandise is made up of 
them. However, although they afford a greater nominal 
per centum than many other articles, the profits are reduced 
b^Jheir freight and heavy duty. In all the Southern mar- 
kets, where they enter into competition, there is a decided 
preference given to the American manufactures over the 
British, as the former are more heavy and durable. The 
demand for calicoes is also considerable, but this kind of 
goods affords much less profit. The quantity in an assort- 
ment should be about equal to half that of domestics. Cot- 
ton velvets, and drillings (whether bleached, brown or blue, 
and especially the latter), have also been in much request. 
But all the coarser cotton goods, whether shirtings, calicoes 
or drillings, &c., were prohibited by the Arancel of 1837; 
and still continue to be, with some modifications. 


Sketches of the Early History of Santa Fe — First Explorations — Why 
called New Mexico — Memorial of Onate — His Colony — Captain 
Leyva's prior Settlement — Singular Stipulations of Onate — In- 
centives presented by the Crown to Colonizers — Enormities of 
Spanish Conquerors — Progress of the new Colony — Cruel Labors 
of the Aborigines in the mines — Revolt of the Indians in 1680 — 
Massacre of the Spaniards — Santa Fe Besieged — Battles — Re- 
maining Spanish Population finally evacuate the Province — Paso 
del Norte — Inhuman Murder of a Spanish Priest — Final Recovery 
of the Country — Insurrection of 1837 — A Prophecy — Shocking 
Massacre of the Governor and other distinguished Characters — 
American Merchants, and Neglect of our Government — Governor 
Armijo : his intrigues and Success — Second Gathering of Insurgents 
and their final Defeat. 

Having resided for nearly nine years in Northern Mex- 
ico, and enjoyed opportunities for observation which do 
not always fall to the lot of a trader, it has occurred to me 
that a few sketches of the country — the first settlements 
— the early, as well as more recent struggles with the ab- 
original inhabitants — their traditions and antiquities — 

258 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

together with some account of the manners and customs 
of the people, etc., would not be altogether unacceptable to 
the reader. The dearth of information which has hitherto 
prevailed on this subject, is my best apology for travelling 
[116] out of my immediate track, and trespassing as it were 
upon the department of the regular historian. 

The province of New Mexico, of which Santa Fe, the 
capital, was one of the first establishments, dates among 
the earliest settlements made in America. By some tra- 
ditions it is related that a small band of adventurers pro- 
ceeded thus far north shortly after the capture of the city 
of Mexico by Heman Cortes. The historian Mariana 
speaks of some attempts having been made, during the 
career of this renowned chieftain in America, to conquer 
and take possession of these regions.''* This, however, is 
somewhat doubtful ; for it is hardly probable that the Span- 
iards, with all their mania for gold, would have pushed their 
conquests two thousand miles into the interior at so early 
a day, traversing the settlements of hostile savages, and 
leaving unexplored intermediate regions, not only more 
beautiful, but far more productive of the precious metals. 

Herrera, writing of the events of 1550, mentions New 
Mexico as a known province lying north of New Galicia, 
though as yet only inhabited by the aborigines.'® It was 

" Juan de Mariana (1536-1623), the famous Jesuit historian of Spain. His 
work in thirty volumes appeared (i 592-1 600) first in Latin, as Histories, de Rebus 
Hispaniae. A Spanish edition is also a classic. An EngHsh translation appeared 
in 1699. 

The earliest exploration of New Mexico was that of Coronado (1540-42); see 
George P. Winship, Coronado Expedition (Washington, 1896), for an English 
translation of the original journals. — Ed. 

" Antonio de Herrara (1549-1625) was official historiographer of Spain, under 
three successive monarchs. His Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos 
(Madrid, 1601) is a prime source for early Spanish-American history. 

New Gahcia was in the sixteenth century the northwestern province of New 
Spain, comprising Jalisco, Aguas CaUentes, and Zacatecas, with its capital at 
Guadalajara. It was explored in 1524, conquered by Nuno de Guzman in 1529- 
31, and made a bishopric in 1544, after the suppression of the Mixton revolt (1540- 
42).— Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 259 

probably called New Mexico from the resemblance of its 
inhabitants to those of the city of Mexico and its environs. 
They appear to have assimilated in their habits, their agri- 
culture, their manufactures and their houses; while those 
of the intermediate country (the Chichimecos, &c.) were 
in a much ruder state, leading a [117] more wandering 
life, and possessing much less knowledge of agriculture, 
arts, etc.^° 

The only paper found in the archives at Santa Fe which 
gives any clue to the first settlement of New Mexico, is the 
memorial of one Don Juan de Onate, a citizen of Zacatecas, 
dated September 21, 1595,^^ of which I have been furnished 
with a copy through the politeness of Don Guadalupe 
Miranda, Secretary of State at Santa Fe. This petition 
prayed for the permission and assistance of the vice-regal 
government at Mexico, to establish a colony on the Rio del 
Norte in the region already known as New Mexico; which 
having been granted, it was carried into effect, as I infer 
from the documents, during the following spring. 

This appears to have been the first legal colony establish- 
ed in the province; yet we gather from different clauses in 

'" H. H. Bancroft, History of New Mexico and Arizona, pp. 73, 91, shows how 
the term "New Mexico" was in the sixteenth century vaguely appHed to any por- 
tion of the country north of the known regions, and that the definite apphcation 
occurs after the explorations of 1581-83. He is inchned to the same opinion which 
Gregg expresses, on the suitabihty of the term to a land whose people and buildings 
resembled those of the Mexican valley. 

Chicimecos was a general term apphed by the Mexicans to all the wild border 
tribes of the north who were in a lower culture stage than the Pueblos of New Mexico 
and Arizona, or the aborigines of Mexico proper. — Ed. 

*' This document has disappeared, and the resume given by Gregg is probably 
the only one extant. It is valuable for the early history of New Mexico. Juan de 
Onate was the son of a conquistador, and himself rich and popular. Either his 
wife or his mother was a granddaughter of Hernando Cortez. For his conquest * 
of New Mexico, a chief source is an epic poem pubhshed in 1605 by Villegra, 
one of his trusted subordinates. The final start was not made until 1597, and the 
territory was occupied the succeeding year. Onate made several exploring jour- 
neys to the northeaot and southwest, in the latter reaching the Gulf of Cahfornia. 
He was governor as late as 1608, and still Uving in 1620; but records of his later 
career are lacking. — Ed. 

26o Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

Onate's memorial, that an adventurer known as Captain 
Francisco de Leyva Bonillo had previously entered the 
province with some followers, without the king's permission, 
whom Onate was authorized to arrest and punish.*^ Some 
historians insist that New Mexico was first visited by a few 
missionaries in 1581; and there is a tradition in the country 
which fixes the first settlement in 1583 — both having 
reference no doubt to the party of Leyva. ^^ 

Onate bound himself to take into New Mexico two hun- 
dred soldiers, and a sufficiency of provisions for the first 
year's support of the colony; with abundance of horses, 
black [118] cattle, sheep, etc., as also merchandise, agri- 
cultural utensils, tools and materials for mechanics' purposes; 
and all at his own cost, or rather at the ultimate expense of 
the colonists. 

This adventurer, in the course of his memorial, also 
stipulates for some extraordinary provisions on the part of 
the King: such as, artillery and other arms, ammunitions, 
etc. — six priests, with a full complement of books, orna- 
ments and church accoutrements — a loan of $20,000 from 
the royal treasury — a grant of thirty leagues square of 
land wheresoever he might choose to select it, with all the 
vassals (Indians) residing upon it — his family to be en- 
nobled, with the hereditary title of Marquis — the office of 
Governor, with the titles of Adelantado and the rank of 
Captain-general for four generations — a salary of 8,000 
ducats of Castile per annum — the privilege of working 
mines exempt from the usual crown-tax — permission to 

^ Francisco Leyva Bonilla was a Portuguese explorer, who in 1574-76 led a 
contraband expedition into New Mexico. He was killed by a lieutenant, Juan 
de Humana, who thereupon assumed chief command. The results of the explor- 
ation were slight, except for the impression of Spanish power made upon the 
natives. — Ed. 

^ On the explorations of the Franciscan friar Rodriguez (1581), and of Espejo 
(1583), not connected with that of Leyva Bonilla, see H. H. Bancroft, History of 
New Mexico and Arizona, ch. iv. — Ed. 

183 1-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 261 

parcel out the aborigines among his officers and men; and, 
besides other favors to his brothers and relatives, to have 
"Indians recommended to their charge," which, in other 
words, was the privilege of making slaves of them to work 
in the mines — with many other distinctions, immunities 
and powers to himself, sufficient to establish him in an 
authority far more despotic than any modern monarch of 
Europe would venture to assume. And although these 
exorbitant demands were not all conceded, they go to demon- 
strate by what incentives of pecuniary [119] interest, as well 
as of honors, the Spanish monarchs sought the "descubri- 
miento, pacificacion y conversion, ^^ as they modestly termed 
it, of the poor aborigines of America. 

The memorial referred to is extremely lengthy, being 
encumbered with numerous marginal notes, each contain- 
ing the decree of assent or dissent of the Viceroy. All this, 
however, serves rather to illustrate the ancient manners 
and customs of the Spaniards in those feudal days — the 
formalities observed in undertaking an exploring and chris- 
tianizing enterprise — than to afford any historical data of 
the expedition. 

In every part of this singular document there may be 
traced evidences of that sordid lust for gold and power, 
which so disgraced all the Spanish conquests in America; 
and that religious fanaticism — that crusading spirit, which 
martyrized so many thousands of the aborigines of the New 
World under Spanish authority. 

But to return to Onate: In one article, this adventurer, 
or contractor, or whatever else we may choose to call him, 
inquires, ' 'In case the natives are unwilling to come quietly 
to the acknowledgment of the true Christian faith, and 
listen to the evangelical word, and give obedience to the 
king our sovereign, what shall be done with them? that we 
may proceed according to the laws of the Catholic Church, 

262 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

and the ordinances of his Majesty. And what tributes, 
that they may be christianly borne, shall be imposed upon 
them, as [120] well for the crown as for the adventurers?" 
— showing that these 'missionaries' (as they were wont to 
call themselves) not only robbed the Indians of their coun- 
try and treasure, and made menial slaves of them, but 
exacted tribute beside — promulgated the gospel at the 
point of the bayonet, and administered baptism by force of 
arms — compelling them to acknowledge the 'apostolic 
Roman Catholic faith,' of which they had not the slightest 
idea. Cervantes, who wrote his Don Quixote about this 
time, no doubt intended to make a hit at this cruel spirit of 
religious bigotry, by making his hero command his captives 
to acknowledge the superiority of his Dulcinea's beauty 
over that of all others; and when they protest that they have 
never seen her, he declares, that "the importance consists 
in this — that without seeing her, you have it to believe, 
confess, afiirm, swear and defend." 

It is much to be regretted that there are no records to be 
found of the wars and massacres, the numberless incidents 
and wild adventures which one would presume to have oc- 
curred during the first three-quarters of a century of the 
colonization of New Mexico. It is probable, however, that, 
as the aborigines seem to have been at first of a remarkably 
pacific and docile character, the conqueror met with but 
little difficulty in carrying out his original plans of settle- 
ment. Quietly acquiescing in both the civil and religious 
authority of the invaders, the yoke was easily riveted upon 
them, as they had neither [121] intelligence nor spirit to 
resist, until goaded to desperation. 

The colony had progressed very rapidly, the settlements 
extending into every quarter of the territory — villages, and 
even towns of considerable importance were reared in re- 
mote sections; of which there now remain but the ruins, 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 263 

with scarce a tradition to tell the fate of the once flourishing 
population. Many valuable mines were discovered and 
worked, as tradition relates, the locations of which have 
been lost, or (as the Mexicans say) concealed by the Indians, 
in order to prevent a repetition of the brutal outrages they 
had suffered in them. Whether this was the case or not, 
they surely had cause enough for wishing to conceal those 
with which they were acquainted; for in these very mines 
they had been forced to perform, under the lash, the most 
laborious tasks, till human strength could endure no more. 
Even then, perhaps, they would not have ventured upon 
resistance, but for the instigations of an eloquent warrior 
from a distant tribe, who pretended to have inherited the 
power of Montezuma, of whose subjects all these Indians, 
even to the present day, consider themselves the descend- 
ants. Tecumseh-like, our hero united the different tribes, 
and laid the plan of a conspiracy and general massacre of 
their oppressors; declaring that all who did not enter into 
the plot, should share the fate of the Spaniards. I have 
been furnished, through the kindness of the Secretary of 
[122] State before mentioned, with an account of this insur- 
rection and consequent massacre of the Spanish population, 
taken from the journal of Don Antonio de Otermin, gov- 
ernor and commandant at the time, which was preserved 
in the public archives at Santa Fe." 
It appears that the night of the 13th of August, 1680, was 

^ The journal of Antonio de Otermin is still preserved in the Mexican archives. 
The document at Santa Fe was apparently a transcript. The information regard- 
ing New Mexico from 1598 to 1680, is scanty, owing to the destruction of local 
records during the revolt of the latter year. Gregg somewhat exaggerates the op- 
pression of the natives. The causes of the Indian revolt appear to have been reli- 
gious rather than economic — a fierce reversion to pagan customs. The Indian 
leader is known as Pope or Pocpec of the pueblo of San Juan. Upon the expulsion 
of the Spaniards, he assumed domination, and the pueblos began to quarrel among 
themselves. He was deposed by one faction, but maintained a form of power until 
his death, in 1688. — Ed. 

264 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

the time fixed for a general insurrection of all the tribes and 
Pueblos. ^^ At a stated hour the massacre of the Spanish 
population was to commence. Every soul was to be 
butchered without distinction of sex or age — with the ex- 
ception of such young and handsome females as they might 
wish to preserve for wives! Although this conspiracy had 
evidently been in agitation for a great while, such strict 
secrecy had been maintained, that nothing was known or 
even suspected, till a few days before the appointed time 
It is said that not a single woman was let into the secret, 
for fear of endangering the success of the cause; but it 
was finally disclosed by two Indian chiefs themselves to 
the governor; and about the same time information of the 
conspiracy was received from some curates and officers of 

Gov. Otermin, seeing the perilous situation of the coun- 
try, lost no time in dispatching general orders for gathering 
the people of the south into the Pueblo of Isleta,^^ where the 
lieutenant-governor was stationed, and those [123] of the 
north and adjacent districts in to Santa Fe. A considerable 
number collected in the fortifications of Isleta, and many 
families from the surrounding jurisdictions were able to 
reach the capital; yet great numbers were massacred on 
the way; for the Indians, perceiving their plot discovered, 
did not await the appointed time, but immediately com- 
menced their work of destruction. 

General hostilities having commenced, every possible 

** A general term for all the Catholic Indians of N. Mexico, and their villages. 
— Gregg. 

^ The old pueblo of Isleta was situated on an island in the Rio Grande, not far 
from the site of the present pueblo. Otermin advanced against this stronghold in 
1 681, captured it without being resisted, and carried away many of the Indians, 
who founded Isleta del Sur in Texas. The old pueblo was abandoned until 1718, 
when it was rebuilt by fugitives returned from among the Hopi (Moki). It has 
constantly been occupied since that time, and has now over a thousand inhabitants, 
who have a large agricultural grant in BernaHllo County. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 265 

preparation was made for a vigorous defence of the capital. 
The population of the suburbs had orders to remove to the 
centre, and the streets were all barricaded. On the eve- 
ning of the loth two soldiers arrived from Taos, having with 
much difficulty escaped the vigilance of the Indians. They 
brought intelligence that the Pueblos of Taos had all risen; 
and that on arriving at La Caiiada," they had found the 
Spaniards well fortified, although a great number of them 
had been assassinated in the vicinity. The governor now 
sent out a detachment of troops to reconnoitre, instructing 
them to bring away the citizens who remained at La Canada. 
They returned on the 12th, with the painful information 
that they had found many dead bodies on their way — that 
the temples had been plundered, and all the stock driven 
off from the ranches. 

The massacre of the Spaniards in many neighboring 
Pueblos, was now unreservedly avowed by the Indians 
themselves; and as those who remained in Santa Fe ap- 
peared in [124] the most imminent danger, the government 
buildings were converted into a fortification. By this time 
two friendly Indians who had been dispatched in the di- 
rection of Galisteo,^^ came in with the intelligence that 

*' For the pueblo of Taos, of a kindred language to that of Isleta, see Pattie's 
Narrative in our volume xviii, p. 73, note 44. 

Santa Cruz de la Canada is first mentioned during this revolt. It was formally 
founded in 1695, and again in 1706, and became one of the four chief centres of 
population in the territory. For its relation to the revolt of 1837, see post. In 
1847, a battle between the New Mexicans and the American invaders took place 
near La Canada. It is now a village in northern Santa Fe County, with a popu- 
lation of about seven hundred. — Ed. 

'* Gahsteo was a pueblo of the Tanos nation, a few miles west of Santa Fe. 
A church and mission existed there before 1629. After the Spaniards were expelled 
from Santa Fe (1680), the Tanos of Gahsteo occupied the place, and a battle oc- 
curred (1693), after which they were expelled. The pueblo was later re-estab- 
lished; but at the close of the eighteenth century its inhabitants, decimated by 
smallpox and attacks of Apache, abandoned it and retired to the pueblo of Santo 
Domingo. Its ruins are still to be seen a mile and a half from the present small 
agricultural settlement which bears the ancient name. — Ed. 

266 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

500 warriors of the tribe called Tagnos,^^ were marching 
towards the city, being even then only about a league distant. 
By conversing with the enemy the spies had been able to 
ascertain their temper and their projects. They seemed 
confident of success —''for the God of the Christians is 
dead," said they, ''but our god, which is the sun, never 
dies;" adding that they were only waiting the arrival of the 
Teguas,^^ Taosas and Apaches," in order to finish their 
work of extermination. 

Next morning the savages were seen approaching from 
the south. On their arrival they took up their quarters in 
the deserted houses of the suburbs, with the view of waitmg 
for their expected allies, before they laid siege to the city. 
A parley was soon afterwards held with the chief leaders, 
who told the Spaniards that they had brought two crosses, 
of which they might have their choice: one was red, denoting 
war, the other was white and professed peace, on the con- 
dition of their immediately evacuating the province. The 
governor strove to conciliate them by offering to pardon all 
the crimes they had committed, [125] provided they would 
be good Christians and loyal subjects thereafter. But the 
Indians only made sport of him and laughed heartily at his 
propositions. He then sent a detachment to dislodge them; 
but was eventually obliged to turn out in person, with all 
the efficient men he had. The battle continued the whole 
day, during which a great number of Indians and some 

** The Pecos and several other populous Pueblos to the southward of Santa Fe 
were Tagnos. — Gregg. 

"" These embraced nearly all the Pueblos between Santa Fe and Taos. — Gregg. 

Comment by Ed. Gregg is correct in his reference to these two linguistic groups, 
save that the Pecos belonged to the Jemez stock, not the Tanos. A. F. Bandelier 
gives the following stocks as embracing all the pueblos: Tigua (Taosas), Tehuas 
(Teguas), Tanos (Tagnos), Queres, Jemez, Piros, and Zuni. See his "Final 
Report on Investigations among the Southwestern Indians," in Archaeological 
Institute of America Papers, American series, iv. 

"' For the Apache, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, note 60. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 267 

Spaniards were killed. But late in the evening, the Teguas, 
Taosas and others, were seen pouring down upon the city 
from the north, when the troops had to abandon the ad- 
vantages they had gained, and fly to the defence of the 

The siege had now continued for nine days, during which 
the force of the Indians had constantly been on the increase. 
Within the last forty-eight hours they had entirely deprived 
the city of water by turning off the stream which had hither- 
to supplied it ; so that the horses and other stock were dying 
of thirst. The want of water and provisions becoming 
more and more insupportable every moment, and seeing no 
chance of rescue or escape, Governor Otermin resolved to 
make a sortie the next morning, and die with sword in hand, 
rather than perish so miserably for want of supplies. At 
sunrise he made a desperate charge upon the enemy, whom, 
notwithstanding the inferiority of his forces, he was soon 
able to dislodge. Their ranks becoming entirely disordered, 
more than three hundred were slain, and an abundance of 
[126] booty taken, with forty-seven prisoners, who, after 
some examination as to the origin of the conspiracy, were 
all shot. The Spaniards, according to their account of the 
affair, only had four or five men killed, although a consider- 
able number were wounded — the governor among the 

The city of Santa Fe, notwithstanding a remaining popu- 
lation of at least a thousand souls, could not muster above 
a hundred able-bodied men to oppose the multitude that 
beset them, which had now increased to about three thou- 
sand. Therefore Governor Otermin, with the advice of 
the most intelligent citizens in the place, resolved to abandon 
the city. On the following day (August 21), they accord- 
ingly set out, the greater portion afoot, carrying their own 
provisions; as there were scarcely animals enough for the 

268 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

wounded. Their march was undisturbed by the Indians, 
who only watched their movements till they passed Isleta, 
when nothing more was seen of them. Here they found 
that those who had been stationed at Isleta had also retreated 
to the south a few days before. As they passed through 
the country, they found the Pueblos deserted by the Indians, 
and the Spaniards who pertained to them all massacred. 

They had not continued on their march for many days, 
when the caravan became utterly unable to proceed; for 
they were not only without animals, but upon the point of 
starvation — the Indians having removed from the route 
everything that could have afforded [127] them relief. In 
this emergency, Otermin dispatched an express to the 
lieutenant-governor, who was considerably in advance, and 
received from his party a few carts, with a supply of pro- 
visions. Towards the latter end of September, the Gov- 
ernor and his companions in misfortune reached Paso del 
Norte (about 320 miles south of Santa Fe), where they 
found the advance party. 

The Governor immediately sent an account of the disaster 
to the Viceroy at Mexico, soliciting reinforcements for the 
purpose of recovering the lost province, but none arrived 
till the following year. Meanwhile the refugees remained 
where they were, and founded, according to the best tradi- 
tions, the town of el Paso del Norte, so called in commemora- 
tion of this retreat, or passage from the north. This is in an 
extensive and fertile valley, over which were scattered sev- 
eral Pueblos, all of whom remained friendly to the Spaniards, 
affording them an asylum with provisions and all the neces- 
saries of life.^^ 

'^ For a brief sketch of El Paso, see our volume xviii, note 89. H. H. Bancroft 
thinks the name not derived from this circumstance, but that it had been appUed 
by Onate nearly a hundred years before. 

The Mexican viceroy was Don Tomas Antonio de la Cerda, marquis de la 
Laguna. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 269 

The following year Governor Otermin was superseded 
by Don Diego de Vargas Zapata, who commenced the work 
of reconquering the country. This war lasted for ten years. 
In 1688, Don Pedro Petrir de Cruzate" entered the province 
and reduced the Pueblo of Zia, which had been famous for 
its brave and obstinate resistance. In this attack more 
than six hundred Indians of both sexes were slain, and a 
large number made prisoners. Among the latter was a 
warrior named Ojeda, celebrated [128] for valor and vivac- 
ity, who spoke good Spanish. This Indian gave a graphic 
account of all that had transpired since the insurrection.^* 

He said that the Spaniards, and especially the priests, 
had been everywhere assassinated in the most barbarous 
manner; and particularly alluded to the murder of the 
curate of Zia, whose fate had been singularly cruel. It ap- 
pears that on the night of the outbreak, the unsuspecting 
padre being asleep in the convent, the Indians hauled him 

^ Gregg appears at this point to have misinterpreted the records. Otermin 
was not superseded until 1683, and then by Cruzate. Vargas did not begin his 
administration until 1691, and it was under him that the reconquest was finally 
accomplished. Don Domingo Jironza Petroz de Cruzate came out from Cadiz 
in 1680. He was recommended for office to the viceroy, who in 1683 made him 
governor of New Mexico. Cruzate made his headquarters at El Paso, and his con- 
nection with New Mexico was limited to this campaign of 1688, in which he ap- 
pears to have subdued several pueblos. Replaced by Vargas in 1691, his services 
were later rewarded with the governorship of Sonora. — Ed. 

** The pueblo of Zia (Cia) of Queres stock, is one of the oldest in New Mexico. 
It is said to occupy the same site as in the days of Coronado; and the church dates 
from the rebuilding after 1688 (see preceding note). Cruzate appears not only to 
have subdued the people of Zia (either in 1688 or 1689), but to have won their 
allegiance, since in the reconquest (1691-99) they espoused the Spanish cause. 
Possibly this was due to the influence of their leader Bartolome Ojeda, who after 
his capture was won over by the Spanish. A series of documents, printed in the 
United States Land Commissioner's Report, 1856, pp. 307-326, speak of Ojeda as 
one "who distinguished himself the most in the battle, lending his aid everywhere, 
and surrendered, being wounded with a bullet and an arrow." He is also declared 
to have been able to read and write the Spanish language, and possessed of inuch 
intelligence. His account of the pueblos, their intestinal differences and feuds, 
was valuable information for the conquerors. Gregg appears to have seen the 
written report of his testimony. — Ed. 

270 F.arly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

out, and having stripped him naked, mounted him upon a 
hog. Then lighting torches, they carried him in that state 
through the village, and several times around the church 
and cemetery, scourging him all the while most unmerci- 
fully! Yet, not even contented with this, they placed the 
weak old man upon all-fours, and mounting upon his back 
by turns, spurred him through the streets, lashing him with- 
out cessation till he expired ! 

The discord which soon prevailed among the different 
Pueblos, greatly facilitated their second subjugation, which 
closely followed their emancipation. These petty feuds 
reduced their numbers greatly, and many villages were 
entirely annihilated, of which history only furnishes the 

In 1698, after the country had been for some time com- 
pletely subdued again by the Spaniards, another irruption 
took place in which many Pueblos were concerned; but 
through the energy of Governor Vargas Zapata it was soon 

[129] Since this last effort, the Indians have been treated 
with more humanity, each Pueblo being allowed a league 
or two of land, and permitted to govern themselves. Their 
rancorous hatred for their conquerors, however, has never 
entirely subsided, yet no further outbreak took place till 
1837, when they joined the Mexican insurgents in another 

" Don Diego Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de Leon, selected as governor of 
New Mexico (1691) for the express purpose of its reconquest, advanced from El 
Paso in August, 1692. He received the submission of the pueblos, and repos- 
sessed the province without bloodshed. Colonists came in the wake of the army, 
and by 1694 the province was again Spanish. The following year, mutterings of 
discontent were to be heard, and in June, 1696 (not 1698, as stated by Gregg), 
the revolt began with the murder of five friars, besides other Spaniards. After 
considerable fighting the pueblos once more submitted, and assumed their earlier 
docility. Vargas, superseded in 1697, was arrested by his successor, and for 
three years kept imprisoned at Santa Fe. Released by orders from Mexico, 
he proceeded thither, vindicated his conduct, and was reinstated in the governor- 
ship (1703). The following year he died, and was buried at Santa Fe. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 271 

bloody conspiracy. Some time before these tragic events 
took place, it was prophesied among them that a new race 
was about to appear from the east, to redeem them from 
the Spanish yoke. I heard this spoken of several months 
before the subject of the insurrection had been seriously 
agitated. It is probable that the Pueblos built their hopes 
upon the Americans, as they seemed as yet to have no knowl- 
edge of the Texans. In fact, they have always appeared 
to look upon foreigners as a superior people, to whom they 
could speak freely of their discontent and their grievances. 
The truth is, the Pueblos, in every part of Mexico, have 
always been ripe for insurrection. It is well known that the 
mass of the revolutionary chief Hidalgo's army was made 
up of this class of people. The immediate cause of the 
present outbreak in the north, however, had its origin among 
the Hispano-Mexican population. This grew chiefly out 
of the change of the federal government to that of Centra- 
lismo in 1835.'" A new governor, Col. Albino Perez, was 
then sent from the city of Mexico, to take charge of this 
isolated department; which was not very agreeable [130] to 
the 'sovereign people,' as they had previously been ruled 
chiefly by native governors. Yet while the new form of 
government was a novelty and did not affect the pecuniary 
interests of the people, it was acquiesced in; but it was now 
found necessary for the support of the new organization, 
to introduce a system of direct taxation, with which the 
people were wholly unacquainted; and they would sooner 
have paid a dohlon through a tariff than a real in this way. 
Yet, although the conspiracy had been brewing for some 
time, no indications of violence were demonstrated, until, on 

•* This was a reactionary movement, supported by the clergy and the army, 
and in part by Santa Ana, that drew up a new constitution depriving the Mexican 
states of their local self-government, and reducing them to departments. This 
was one of the causes of the Texas revolt. — Ed. 

272 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

account of some misdemeanor, an alcalde^'^ was imprisoned 
by the Prejecto of the northern district, Don Ramon Abreu. 
His honor of the staff was soon liberated by a mob; an 
occurrence which seemed as a watchword for a general in- 

These new movements took place about the beginning 
of August, 1837, and an immense rabble was soon gathered 
at La Canada (a town some twenty-five miles to the north 
of Santa Fe), among whom were to be found the principal 
warriors of all the Northern Pueblos. Governor Perez 
issued orders to the alcaldes for the assembling of the militia ; 
but all that could be collected together was about a hundred 
and fifty men, including the warriors of the Pueblo of Santo 
Domingo.*^ With this inadequate force, the Governor 
made an attempt to march from the capital, but was soon 
surprised by the insurgents who lay in ambush near La 
Canada; when his own [131] men fled to the enemy, leaving 
him and about twenty-five trusty friends to make their es- 
cape in the best way they could. Knowing that they would 
not be safe in Santa Fe, the refugees pursued their flight 
southward, but were soon overtaken by the exasperated 
Pueblos; when the Governor was chased back to the suburbs 
of the city, and savagely put to death. His body was then 

" A doubloon (Spanish' doblon) was a large gold coin employed both in the 
mother country and the colonies, with a value at this period of about eight Amer- 
ican dollars. A real was a subsidiary silver coin; those of Mexico were counted 
at one-eighth of an American doUar. 

The alcalde was the local municipal officer, combining the fimctions of mayor 
with those of justice of the peace. The office was appointive, but usually pur- 
chased. — Ed. 

'* The pueblo of Santo Domingo is of Queres origin, and one of the best known 
in New Mexico. Apparently the site has been changed several times, because 
of freshets, the last of which occurred in 1886, carrying away the church. Pike 
visited the pueblo in 1807, and was surprised at the rich decorations of the 
church. It is now on the east bank of the Rio Grande just below Galisteo River, 
and the largest pueblo in Sandoval County, having a population of about eight 
hundred. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg s Commerce of the Prairies 273 

stripped and shockingly mangled: his head was carried as 
a trophy to the camp of the insurgents, who made a foot- 
ball of it among themselves. I had left the city the day 
before this sad catastrophe took place, and beheld the 
Indians scouring the fields in pursuit of their victims, though 
I was yet ignorant of their barbarous designs. I saw them 
surround a house and drag from it the secretary of state, 
Jesus Maria Alaria, generally known by the sobriquet of 
Alarid. He and some other principal characters (including 
Prefect Abreu), who had also taken refuge among the ran- 
chos, were soon afterwards stripped, and finally dispatched 
d lanzadas, that is, pierced through and through with lances, 
a mode of assassination very common among those demi- 
civilized savages. 

Don Santiago Abreu (brother of the prefect), formerly 
governor and the most famed character of N. Mexico, was 
butchered in a still more barbarous manner. They cut off his 
hands, pulled out his eyes and tongue, and otherwise mu- 
tilated his body, taunting him all the while with the crimes 
he was accused of, by shaking the shorn members in his 
face. Thus perished nearly a dozen of the most conspicu- 
ous [132] men of the obnoxious party, whose bodies lay for 
several days exposed to the beasts and birds of prey. 

On the 9th of August about two thousand of the insurgent 
mob, including the Pueblo Indians, pitched their camp in 
the suburbs of the capital. The horrors of a saqueo (or 
plundering of the city) were now anticipated by everyone. 
The American traders were particularly uneasy, expecting 
every instant that their lives and property would fall a sacri- 
fice to the ferocity of the rabble. But to the great and most 
agreeable surprise of all, no outrage of any importance was 
committed upon either inhabitant or trader. A great por- 
tion of the insurgents remained in the city for about two 
days, during which one of their boldest leaders, Jose Gon- 

274 Fiurly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

zalez of Taos, a good honest hunter but a very ignorant 
man, was elected for governor."® 

The first step of the revolutionists was to seize all the 
property of their proscribed or murdered victims, which was 
afterwards distributed among the victors by a decree of the 
Asaniblea general — that being the title by which a council 
summoned together by Governor Gonzalez, and composed 
of all the alcaldes and principal characters of the territory, 
was dignified. The families of the unfortunate victims of 
this revolutionary movement were thus left destitute of 
everything; and the foreign merchants who had given the 
officers credit to a large amount upon the strength of their 
reputed property and salaries, remained [133] without a 
single resource with which to cover their demands. As 
these losses were chiefly experienced in consequence of a 
want of sufficient protection from the general government, 
the American merchants drew up a memorial setting forth 
their claims, which, together with a schedule of the various 
accounts due, was sent to the Hon. Powhattan Ellis, Ameri- 
can Minister at Mexico.*"" These demands were certainly 
of a far more equitable character than many of those which 
some time after occasioned the French blockade;*"* yet our 
Government has given the unfortunate claimants no hope 
of redress. Even Mexico did not dispute the justness of 

" Gregg is good authority for the facts of the revolution of 1837, having been 
at Santa F^ during the time. For other accounts, see Bancroft, New Mexico and 
Arizona, pp. 316-320; W. W. H. Davis, El Gringo (New York, 1857), pp. 86-91. 
Davis saw the plan of government drawn by the revolutionists at La Canada, and 
prints a translation thereof. — Ed. 

'""Powhattan Ellis was a Virginian (1794-1844), who removed at an early 
day to Mississippi, and was first supreme judge of that state (1812-25). He was 
elected to the United States senate in 1827, resigning before the close of his term 
to take a place as United States circuit judge. In 1836 he was made chargd 
d'affaires at Mexico, and minister from 1839 to 1842. — Ed. 

"* Gregg refers to the so-called Pastry War of 1838-39, when France bom- 
barded and captured the stronghold of San Juan de UUoa at Vera Cruz, and 
imposed terms upon the government, in recompense for certain just claims of 
French citizens, which Mexico had refused to pay. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 275 

these claims, but, on the contrary, she promptly paid to the 
order of General Armijo, a note given by the late Governor 
Perez to Mr. Sutton, an American merchant, which Armijo 
had purchased at a great discount. 

In the South, the Americans were everywhere accused of 
being the instigators of this insurrection, which was openly 
pronounced another Texas affair. Their goods were con- 
fiscated or sequestered, upon the slightest pretexts, or for 
some pretended irregularity in the accompanying docu- 
ments; although it was evident that these and other indig- 
nities were heaped upon them, as a punishment for the oc- 
currence of events which it had not been in their power to 
prevent. Indeed, these ill-used merchants were not only 
innocent of any participation in the insurrectionary move- 
ments, but had actually furnished means to [134] the govern- 
ment for the purpose of quelling the disturbances. 

As I have observed before, the most active agents in this 
desperate affair were the Pueblo Indians, although the in- 
surgent party was composed of all the heterogeneous in- 
gredients that a Mexican population teems with. The 
rancheros and others of the lowest class, however, were only 
the instruments of certain discontented ricos, who, it has 
been said, were in hope of elevating themselves upon the 
wreck of their enemies. Among these was the present 
Governor Armijo, an ambitious and turbulent demagogue, 
who, for some cause or other, seemed anxious for the down- 
fall of the whole administration. 

As soon as Armijo received intelligence of the catastrophe, 
he hurried to the capital, expecting, as I heard it intimated 
by his own brother, to be elected governor; but, not having 
rendered any personal aid, the 'mobocracy' would not ac- 
knowledge his claim to their suffrages. He therefore re- 
tired, Santa- Anna-like, to his residence at Alburquerque, 
to plot, in imitation of his great prototype, some measures 
for counteracting the operation of his own intrigues. In 

276 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

this he succeeded so well, that towards September he was 
able to collect a considerable force in the Rio-Abajo/°' 
when he proclaimed a contra-revolucion in favor of the federal 
government. About the same time the disbanded troops 
of the capital under Captain Caballero, made a similar 
pronunciamento, demanding their arms, [135] and offering 
their services gratis. The 'mobocratic' dynasty had gone 
so far as to deny allegiance to Mexico, and to propose send- 
ing to Texas for protection: although there had not been 
any previous understanding with that Republic. 

Armijo now marched to Santa Fe with all his force, and 
Governor Gonzalez being without an army to support him, 
fled to the north. After his triumphal entrance into the 
capital, Armijo caused himself to be proclaimed Governor 
and Comandante General, and immediately dispatched 
couriers to Mexico with a highly colored account of his own 
exploits, which procured him a confirmation of those titles 
and dignities for eight years. 

In the meanwhile news of the insurrection having reached 
Mexico, the Escuadron de Vera Cruz, from Zacatecas, con- 
sisting of about two hundred dragoons, with an equal num- 
ber of regulars from the Presidios of Chihuahua, under the 
command of Colonel Justiniani, were ordered to New 
Mexico. Having arrived at Santa Fe, these troops, together 
with Governor Armijo' s little army, marched in January, 
1838, to attack the rebels, who, by this time, had again col- 
lected in considerable numbers at La Cafiada. 

The greatest uneasiness and excitement now prevailed at 
the Capital, lest the rabble should again prove victorious, 
in which case they would not fail to come and sack the city. 
Foreign merchants had as usual the greatest cause for fear, 
as vengeance had been openly [136] vowed against them for 
having furnished the government party with supplies. 
These, therefore, kept up a continual watch, and had every- 

^"^ For Rio Abajo, see note iii, post. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 277 

thing in readiness for a precipitate flight to the United 
States. But in a short time their fears were completely dis- 
pelled by the arrival of an express, with the welcome news 
of the entire defeat of the insurgents."^ 

It appeared that, when the army arrived within view of 
the insurgent force, Armijo evinced the greatest perturba- 
tion. In fact, he was upon the point of retiring without 
venturing an attack, when Captain Munoz, of the Vera 
Cruz dragoons, exclaimed, "What's to be done. General 
Armijo? If your Excellency will but permit me, I will 
oust that rabble in an instant with my little company alone. " 
Armijo having given his consent, the gallant captain rushed 
upon the insurgents, who yielded at once, and fled pre- 
cipitately — suffering a loss of about a dozen men, among 
whom was the deposed Governor Gonzalez, who, having 
been caught in the town after the skirmish had ended, was 
instantly shot, without the least form of trial. 


Geographical Position of New Mexico — Absence of navigable Streams 

— The Rio del Norte — Romantic Chasm — Story of a sunken 
River — Mr. Stanley's Excursion to a famous Lake — Santa Fe 
and its localities — El Valle de Taos and its Fertihty — Soil of N. 
Mexico — The first Settler at Taos and his Contract with the Indians 

— Salubrity and Pleasantness of the Climate of New Mexico — 
Population — State of Agriculture — Staple Productions of the 
Country — Corn-fields and Fences — Irrigation and Acequias — 
Tortillas and Tortilleras — Atole, Frijoles, and Chile — Singular 
Custom — Cuhnary and Table Affairs — Flax and the Potato 
indigenous — Tobacco and Punche — Fruits — Pecuhar Mode of 
cultivating the Grape — Forest Growths — Pinon and Mezquite — 
Mountain Cottonwood — Palmilla or Soap-plant — Pasturage. 

Nev^ Mexico possesses but few of those natural ad- 
vantages, which are necessary to anything like a rapid pro- 
gress in civilization. Though bounded north and east by 

"•^ Apparently there were two battles, the second of which occurred at La 
Canada January 27, 1838. Davis, El Gringo, p. 92, gives the names of other 
insurgents who were shot, besides Jose Gonzales; and accuses Armijo of cruelty 
and private assassination. — Ed. 

278 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

the territory of the United States, south by that of Texas 
and Chihuahua, and west by Upper CaHfornia, it is sur- 
rounded by chains of mountains and prairie wilds, extend- 
ing to a distance of 500 miles or more, except in the direc- 
tion of Chihuahua, from which its settlements are separated 
by an unpeopled desert of nearly two hundred miles — and 
without a single means of communication by water with 
any other part of the world. 

[138] The whole nominal territory, including those bleak 
and uninhabitable regions with which it is intersected, com- 
prises about 200,000 square miles — considered, of course, 
according to its original boundaries, and therefore indepen- 
dently of the claims of Texas to the Rio del Norte. To 
whichsoever sovereignty that section of land may eventually 
belong, that portion of it, at least, which is inhabited, should 
remain united. Any attempt on the part of Texas to make 
the Rio del Norte the line of demarkation would greatly re- 
tard her ultimate acquisition of the territory, as it would 
leave at least one third of the population accustomed to the 
same rule, and bound by ties of consanguinity and affinity 
of customs, wholly at the mercy of the contiguous hordes of 
savages, that inhabit the Cordilleras on the west of them. 
This great chain of mountains which reaches the borders 
of the Rio del Norte, not far above El Paso, would, in my 
opinion, form the most natural boundary between the two 
countries, from thence northward.^"* 

There is not a single navigable stream to be found in 
New Mexico. The famous Rio del Norte is so shallow, 
for the most part of the year, that Indian canoes can scarcely 

'"^ Although no definite boundary had been established between New Mexico 
and Texas, the River Pecos was usually accepted as such, until the treaty between 
Santa Ana and the Texans in 1836, whereby the latter agreed not to claim farther 
than the Rio Grande. The Texan congress, in December of the same year, de- 
fined the western and southwestern limits of the new state as the Rio Grande to 
its source, thence north to latitude 42°. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 279 

float in it. Its navigation is also obstructed by frequent 
shoals and rippling sections for a distance of more than a 
thousand miles below Santa Fe. Opposite Taos, especially, 
for an uninterrupted distance of nearly fifteen miles, it runs 
pent up in a deep canon, through which [139] it rushes in 
rapid torrents. This frightful chasm is absolutely impas- 
sable; and, viewed from the top, the scene is imposing in the 
extreme. None but the boldest hearts and firmest nerves 
can venture to its brink, and look down its almost perpen- 
dicular precipice, over projecting crags and deep crevices, 
upon the foaming current of the river, which, in some places, 
appears like a small rippling brook ; while in others it winds 
its serpentine course silently but majestically along, through 
a narrow little valley; with immense plains bordering and 
expanding in every direction, yet so smooth and level that 
the course of the river is not perceived till within a few yards 
of the verge. I have beheld this canon from the summit of 
a mountain, over which the road passes some twenty miles 
below Taos, from whence it looks like the mere fissure of an 
insignificant ravine. 

Baron Humboldt speaks of an extraordinary event as 
having occurred in 1752, of which he says the inhabitants 
of Paso del Norte still preserved the recollection in his day. 
"The whole bed of the river," says the learned historian, 
'* became dry all of a sudden, for more than thirty leagues 
above and twenty leagues below the Paso: and the water of 
the river precipitated itself into a newly formed chasm, and 
only made its reappearance near the Presidio of San 
Eleazeario.^"^ ... At length, after the lapse of several 
weeks, the water resumed its course, no doubt because the 
chasm and the subterraneous conductors [140] had filled 

'"* For Baron von Humboldt, see Pattie's Narrative, in our volume xviii, note 
136. San Elizario is an old Mexican village in EI Paso County, Texas, now a 
station on the Southern Pacific Railway. — Ed. 

280 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

up." This, I must confess, savors considerably of the 
marvellous, as not the least knowledge of these facts appears 
to have been handed down to the present generation. Dur- 
ing very great droughts, however, this river is said to have 
entirely disappeared in the sand, in some places, between 
San Elceario and the Presidio del Norte. 

Notwithstanding the numerous tributary streams which 
would be supposed to pour their contents into the Rio del 
Norte, very few reach their destination before they are com- 
pletely exhausted. Rio Puerco, so called from the extreme 
muddiness of its waters, would seem to form an exception 
to this rule. Yet this also, although at least a hundred 
miles in length, is dry at the mouth for a portion of the year. 
The creek of Santa Fe itself, though a bold and dashing 
rivulet in the immediate vicinity of the mountains, sinks 
into insignificance, and is frequently lost altogether before 
it reaches the main river. Pecos and Conchos, its most 
important inlets,^"® would scarcely be entitled to a passing 
remark, but for the geographical error of Baron Humboldt, 
who set down the former as the head branch of 'Red River 
of Natchitoches.' These streams may be considered the 
first constant-flowing inlets which the Rio del Norte re- 
ceives from Santa Fe south — say for the distance of five 
hundred miles! It is then no wonder that this 'Great 
River of the North' decreases in volume of water as it 
descends. In fact, above the region of tide-water, it is al- 
most [141] everywhere fordable during most of the year, 
being seldom over knee-deep, except at the time of freshets. 
Its banks are generally very low, often less than ten feet 

*°* For the Rio Puerco, see our volume xviii, p. 159, note 90. For the Pecos, 
ibid., p. 77, note 49. 

The Conchos is the largest western tributary of the Rio Grande, rising in the 
Sierra Madre and flowing north and east for nearly three hundred miles, through 
the province of Chihuahua. It discharges into the main river at Presidio del 
Norte.— Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg s Commerce of the Prairies 281 

above low-water mark; and yet, owing to the dispropor- 
tioned width of the channel (which is for the most part 
some four hundred yards), it is not subject to inundations. 
Its only important rises are those of the annual freshets, 
occasioned by the melting of the snow in the mountains. 

This river is only known to the inhabitants of Northern 
Mexico as Rio del Norte, or North river, because it descends 
from that direction; yet in its passage southward, it is in 
some places called Rio Grande, on account of its extent; 
but the name of Rio Bravo (Bold or Rapid river), so often 
given to it on maps, is seldom if ever heard among the peo- 
ple. Though its entire length, following its meanders from 
its source in the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, 
must be considerably over two thousand miles, it is hardly 
navigable to the extent of two hundred miles above its 

The head branch of Pecos, as well as the creeks of Santa 
Fe and Tezuque, are said to be fed from a little lake which 
is located on the summit of a mountain about ten miles east 
of Santa Fe. Manifold and marvellous are the stories re- 
lated of this lake and its wonderful localities, which al- 
though believed to be at least greatly exaggerated, would 
no doubt induce numbers of travellers to visit this [142] 
snow-bound elysium, were it not for the laboriousness of 
the ascent. The following graphic account of a 'pleasure 
excursion,' to this celebrated 'watering place,' is from the 
memoranda of Mr. E. Stanley, who spent many years in 
the New Mexican capital. 

"The snow had entirely disappeared from the top of the 
highest mountains, as seen from Santa Fe before the first 
of May, and on the eighteenth we set off on our trip. All 
were furnished with arms and fishing-tackle — well pre- 
pared to carry on hostilities both by land and water. Game 
was said to be abundant on the way — deer, turkeys, and 

282 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

even the formidable grizzly bear, ready to repel any inva- 
sion of his hereditary domain. Santa Fe creek, we knew, 
abounded with trout, and we were in hopes of finding them 
in the lake, although I had been told by some Mexicans, 
that there were no fish in it, and that it contained no living 
thing, except a certain nondescript and hideously misshapen 
little animal. We travelled up the course of the creek about 
eight miles, and then began to climb the mountain. Our 
journey now became laborious, the ascent being by no 
means gradual — rather a succession of hills — some long, 
others short — some declivitous, and others extremely pre- 
cipitous. Continuing in this way for six or seven miles, 
we came to a grove of aspen, thick as cottonwoods in the 
Missouri bottoms. Through this grove, which extended 
for nearly a mile, no sound met the ear; no sign of life — 
not even an insect was [143] to be seen; and not a breath of 
air was stirring. It was indeed a solitude to be felt. A 
mile beyond the grove brought us near the lake. On this 
last level, we unexpectedly met with occasional snow-banks, 
some of them still two or three feet deep. Being late, we 
sought out a suitable encampment, and fixed upon a little 
marshy prairie, east of the lake. The night was frosty and 
cold, and ice was frozen nearly an inch thick. Next morn- 
ing we proceeded to the lake; when, lo — instead of behold- 
ing a beautiful sheet of water, we found an ugly little pond, 
with an area of two or three acres — frozen over, and one 
side covered with snow several feet deep. Thus all our 
hope of trout and monsters were at an end; and the tracks 
of a large bear in the snow, were all the game we saw during 
the trip." 

Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is the only town of 
any importance in the province. We sometimes find it written 
Santa Fe de San Francisco (Holy Faith of St. Francis), 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 283 

the latter being the patron, or tutelary samt. Like most of 
the towns in this section of country it occupies the site of an 
ancient Pueblo or Indian village, whose race has been ex- 
tinct for a great many years.*" Its situation is twelve or 
fifteen miles east of the Rio del Norte, at the western base 
of a snow-clad mountain, upon a beautiful stream of small 
mill-power size, which ripples down in icy cascades, and 
joins the river some twenty miles to the southwestward. 
The population of the city itself [144] but little exceeds 
3000; yet, including several surrounding villages which are 
embraced in its corporate jurisdiction, it amounts to nearly \ 
6,000 souls/"* 

The town is very irregularly laid out, and most of the 
streets are little better than common highways traversing 
scattered settlements which are interspersed with corn- 
fields nearly sufficient to supply the inhabitants with grain. 
The only attempt at anything like architectural compact- 
ness and precision, consists in four tiers of buildings, whose 
fronts are shaded with a fringe of portales or corredores of 
the rudest possible description. They stand around the 
public square, and comprise the Palacio, or Governor's 
house, the Custom-house, Barracks (with which is connected 
the fearful Calahozo), the Casa Consistorial of the Alcaldes, 
the Capilla de los Soldados or Military Chapel, besides 

*"' For a brief sketch of Santa Fe, see our volume xviii, note 48. The best 
authorities now conclude that there was no pueblo on the site of Santa Fe for at 
least a century before the Spanish occupation. See A. F. Bandelier, in Archaeo- 
logical Institute of America Papers, American series, iv, part ii, pp. 89, 90. — Ed> 

'"* The latitude of Santa Fe, as determined by various observations, is 35° 41' 
(though it is placed on most maps nearly a degree further north); and the longi- 
tude about 106° west from Greenwich. Its elevation above the ocean is nearly 
7,000 feet; that of the valley of Taos is no doubt over a mile and a half. The 
highest peak of the mountain (which is covered with perennial snow) some ten 
miles to the northeast of the capital, is reckoned about 5,000 feet above the town. 
Those from Taos northward rise still to a much greater elevation. — Gregg. 

284 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

several private residences, as well as most of the shops of 
the American traders. ^"^ 

The population of New Mexico is almost exclusively con- 
fined to towns and villages, the suburbs of which are gen- 
erally farms. Even most of the individual ranchos and 
haciendas have grown into villages, — a result almost [145] 
indispensable for protection against the marauding savages 
of the surrounding wilderness."" The principal of these 
settlements are located in the valley of the Rio del Norte, 
extending from nearly one hundred miles north to about 
one hundred and forty south of Santa Fe."^ The most im- 
portant of these, next to the capital, is El Voile de Taos,^" 
so called in honor of the Taosa tribe of Indians, a remnant 
of whom still forms a Pueblo in the north of the valley. No 
part of New Mexico equals this valley in amenity of soil, 
richness of produce and beauty of appearance. Whatever 
is thrown into its prolific bosom, which the early frosts of 
autumn will permit to ripen, grows to a wonderful degree 
of perfection. 

Wheat especially has been produced of a superlative 

^"* Most of these buildings iiave been swept away by the advance of American 
civilization; the military chapel, built in 1730, virith its altar tablet of 1761, formerly 
faced the plaza. The governor's palace still remains, perhaps the oldest building 
in the United States. It is built of adobe, with walls three feet in thickness, one 
story in height, three hundred feet in length by forty in depth, with a long "portal," 
or porch, across the entire front. It is still the ofl&cial residence of the governor; 
the eastern end is occupied by the New Mexican Historical Society's museum. 
Tourists visit the room in which General Lew Wallace, then territorial governor, 
wrote the last chapters of Ben Hur. — Ed. 

^^° Various estimates have been made of the population at the time of the 
American conquest. About eighty thousand seems to be a fair average, although 
one contemporary gives twice the number. — Ed. 

"* The settlements up the river from the capital are collectively known as 
Rio-Arriba, and those down the river as Rio-Abajo. The latter comprise over a 
third of the population, and the principal wealth of New Mexico. — Gregg. 

''^ The 'Valley of Taos,'' there being no town of this name. It includes several 
villages and other settlements, the largest of which are Fernandez and Los Ranchos, 
four or five miles apart. — Gregg. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 285 

quality, and in such abundance, tiiat, as is asserted, the 
crops have often yielded over a hundred fold. I would not 
have it understood, however, that this is a fair sample of 
New Mexican soil; for, in point of fact, though many of the 
bottoms are of very fertile character, the uplands must 
chiefly remain unproductive; owing, in part, to the sterility 
of the soil, but as much, no doubt, to want of irrigation; 
hence nearly all the farms and settlements are located in 
those valleys which [146] may be watered by some constant- 
flowing stream."' 

The first settler of the charming valley of Taos, since the 
country was reconquered from the Indians, is said to have 
been a Spaniard named Pando, about the middle of the 
eighteenth century. This pioneer of the North, finding 
himself greatly exposed to the depredations of the Coman- 
ches, succeeded in gaining the friendship of that tribe, by 
promising his infant daughter, then a beautiful child, to one 
of their chiefs in marriage. But the unwilling maiden 
having subsequently refused to ratify the contract, the set- 
tlement was immediately attacked by the savages, and all 
were slain except the betrothed damsel who was led into 
captivity. After living some years with the Comanches on 
the great prairies, she was bartered away to the Pawnees, 
of whom she was eventually purchased by a Frenchman of 
St. Louis. Some very respectable families in that city are 
descended from her; and there are many people yet living 
who remember with what affecting pathos the old lady was 
wont to tell her tale of woe. She died but a few years ago. 

Salubrity of climate is decidedly the most interesting 

'" For the generally barren and desolate appearance which the uplands of 
New Mexico present, some of them have possessed an extraordinary degree of 
fertility; as is demonstrated by the fact that many of the fields on the undulating 
lands in the suburbs of Santa Fe, have no doubt been in constant cultivation over 
two hundred years, and yet produce tolerable crops, without having been once 
renovated by manure. — Gregg. 

286 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

feature in the character of New [147] Mexico. Nowhere — 
not even under the much boasted Sicilian skies, can a purer or 
a more wholesome atmosphere be found. Bilious diseases 
— the great scourge of the valley of the Mississippi — are 
here almost unknown. Apart from a fatal epidemic fever 
of a typhoid character, that ravaged the whole province 
from 1837 to 1839, and which, added to the smallpox that 
followed in 1840, carried off nearly ten per cent, of the 
population, New Mexico has experienced very little disease 
of a febrile character; so that as great a degree of longevity 
is attained there, perhaps, as in any other portion of the 
habitable world. Persons withered almost to mummies, 
are to be encountered occasionally, whose extraordinary 
age is only to be inferred from their recollection of certain 
notable events which have taken place in times far remote. 

A sultry day, from Santa Fe north, is of very rare occur- 
rence. The summer nights are usually so cool and pleasant 
that a pair of blankets constitutes an article of comfort sel- 
dom dispensed with. The winters are long, but not so sub- 
ject to sudden changes as in damper climates; the general 
range of the thermometer, throughout the year, being from 
10° to 75° above zero, of Fahrenheit. Baron Humboldt 
was led into as great an error with respect to the climate 
of New Mexico as to the rivers; for he remarks, that near 
Santa Fe and a little further nbrth, "the Rio del Norte is 
sometimes covered for a succession of several years, with 
ice thick enough to admit the [148] passage of horses and 
carriages:" a circumstance which would be scarcely less 
astounding to the New Mexicans, than would the occur- 
rence of a similar event in the harbor of New York be to 
her citizens. 

The great elevation of all the plains about the Rocky 
Mountains, is perhaps the principal cause of the extraor- 
dinary dryness of the atmosphere. There is but little rain 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 287 

throughout the year, except from July to October — known 
as the rainy season; and as the Missouri traders usually 
arrive about its commencement, the coincidence has given 
rise to a superstition, quite prevalent among the vulgar, 
that the Americans bring the rain with them. During 
seasons of drought, especially, they look for the arrival of 
the annual caravans as the harbinger of speedy relief. 

There has never been an accurate census taken in New 
Mexico. Of the results of one which was attempted in 1832, 
the Secretary of State at Santa Fe speaks in the following 
terms: "At present (1841) we may estimate the Spanish 
or white population at about 60,000 souls or more, being 
what remains of 72,000, which the census taken eight or 
nine years ago showed there then existed in New Mexico." 
He supposes that this great diminution resulted from the 
ravages of the frightful diseases already alluded to. The 
decrease of population from these causes, however, is thus 
greatly overrated. The discrepancy must find its explana- 
tion in the original inaccuracy of the census referred to. 

[149] If we exclude the unsubjugated savages, the entire 
population of New Mexico, including the Pueblo Indians, 
cannot be set down, according to the best estimates I have 
been able to obtain, at more than 70,000 souls. These may 
be divided as follows: white Creoles, say 1,000; Mestizos, 
or mixed Creoles, 59,000; and Pueblos, 10,000. Of natu- 
ralized citizens, the number is inconsiderable — scarcely 
twenty; and if we except transient traders, there are not 
over double as many alien residents. There are no negroes 
in New Mexico, and consequently neither mulattoes nor 
zambos. In 1803, Baron Humboldt set down the popula- 
tion of this province at 40,200, so that according to this 
the increase for forty years has barely exceeded one per 
cent, per annum. 

Agriculture, like almost everything else in New Mexico, 

288 Karly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

is in a very primitive and unimproved state. A great por- 
tion of the peasantry cultivate with the hoe alone — their 
ploughs (when they have any) being only used for mellow 
grounds, as they are too rudely constructed to be fit for any 
other service. Those I have seen in use are mostly fashioned 
in this manner: — a section of the trunk of a tree, eight or 
ten inches in diameter, is cut about two feet long, with a 
small branch left projecting upwards, of convenient length 
for a handle. With this a beam is connected to which oxen 
are yoked. The block, with its fore end sloped downwards 
to a point, runs flat, and opens a furrow similar to that of 
[150] the common shovel-plough. What is equally worthy 
of remark is, that these plows are often made exclusively of 
wood, without one particle of iron, or even a naU to increase 
their durability. 

The labores and milpas (cultivated fields) are often, in- 
deed most usually, without any enclosure. The owners of 
cattle are obliged to keep herdsmen constantly with them, 
else graze them at a considerable distance from the farms; 
for if any trespass is committed upon the fields by stock, 
the proprietor of the latter is bound to pay damages: there- 
fore, instead of the cultivator's having to guard his crop 
from the cattle as with us, the owners of these are bound to 
guard them from the crops. Only a chance farm is seen 
fenced with poles scattered along on forks, or a loose hedge 
of brush, mud-fences, or walls of very large adobes, are also 
occasionally to be met with. 

The necessity of irrigation has confined, and no doubt 
will continue to confine agriculture principally to the valleys 
of the constant-flowing streams. In some places the crops 
are frequently cut short by the drying up of the streams. 
Where water is abundant, however, art has so far superseded 
the offices of nature in watering the farms, that it is almost 
a question whether the interference of nature in the matter 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 289 

would not be a disadvantage. On the one hand the husband- 
man need not have his grounds overflowed if he admin- 
isters the water himself, much less need he permit them 
[151] to suffer from drought. He is therefore more sure of 
his crop than if it were subject to the caprices of the weather 
in more favored agricultural regions. 

One acequia madre (mother ditch) sufi&ces generally to 
convey water for the irrigation of an entire valley, or at 
least for all the fields of one town or settlement. This is 
made and kept in repair by the public, under the super- 
vision of the alcaldes; laborers being allotted to work upon 
it as with us upon our county roads. The size of this prin- 
cipal ditch is of course proportioned to the quantity of land 
to be watered. It is conveyed over the highest part of the 
valley, on which, these mountain streams, is, for the most 
part, next to the hills. From this, each proprietor of a 
farm runs a minor ditch, in like manner, over the most 
elevated part of his field. Where there is not a super- 
abundance of water, which is often the case on the smaller 
streams, each farmer has his day, or portion of a day allot- 
ted to him for irrigation ; and at no other time is he permitted 
to extract water from the acequia madre. Then the culti- 
vator, after letting the water into his minor ditch, dams this, 
first at one point and then at another, so .as to overflow a 
section at a time, and with his hoe, depressing eminences 
and filling sinks, he causes the water to spread regularly 
over the surface. Though the operation would seem tedi- 
ous, an expert irrigator will water in one day his five or six 
acre field, if level, and everything well arranged; yet on 
[152] uneven ground he will hardly be able to get over half 
of that amount."^ 

'"There is no land measure here correspondent to our acres. Husbandmen 
rate their fields by the amount of wheat necessary to sow them; and thus speak 
of a fanega of land — fanega being a measure of about two bushels — meaning 

290 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

All the acequias for the valley of the Rio del Norte are 
conveyed from the main stream, except where a tributary 
of more convenient water happens to join it. As the banks 
of the river are very low, and the descent considerable, the 
water is soon brought upon the surface by a horizontal 
ditch along an inclined bank, commencing at a convenient 
point of constant-flowing water — generally without dam, 
except sometimes a wing of stones to turn the current into 
the canal. 

The staple productions of the country are emphatically 
Indian corn and wheat. The former grain is most exten- 
sively employed for making tortillas — an article of food 
greatly in demand among the people, the use of which has 
been transmitted to them by the aborigines. The corn is 
boiled in water with a little lime : and when it has been suf- 
ficiently softened, so as to strip it of its skin, it is ground 
into paste upon the metate,^^^ and formed into a thin cake. 
This is afterwards spread on a small sheet of iron or copper, 
called [153] comal (comalli, by the Indians), and placed 
over the fire, where, in less than three minutes, it is baked 
and ready for use. The thinness of the tortilla is always a 
great test of skill in the maker, and much rivalry ensues in 
the art of preparation. The office of making tortillas has, 
from the earliest times, pertained chiefly to the women, 
who appear to be better adapted to this employ than the 
other sex, both as regards skill and dexterity, in preparing 
this particular food for the table. I perfectly agree with 

an extent which two bushels of wheat will suffice to sow. Tracts are usually sold 
by the number of leguas (leagues), or varas front of irrigable lands; for those back 
from the streams are considered worthless. The vara is very nearly 33 English 
inches, 5,000 of which constitute the Mexican league — under two miles and two- 
thirds. — Gregg. 

"' From the Indian word metatl, a hollowed oblong stone, used as a grinding- 
machine. — Gregg. 

A Kitchen Scene 


Ridins Dress of Cahallero 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 293 

the historian Clavigero,"® however, in the opinion that 
' 'although this species of corn-bread may be very whole- 
some and substantial, and well-flavored when newly made, 
it is unpleasant when cold." 

A sort of thin mush, called atole, made of [154] Indian 
meal, is another article of diet, the preparation of which is 
from the aborigines; and such is its nationality, that in the 
North it is frequently called el cafe de las Mexicanos (the 
coffee of the Mexicans). How general soever the use of 
coffee among Americans may appear, that of atole is still 
more so among the lower classes of Mexicans. They virtu- 
ally 'breakfast, dine and sup' upon it. Of this, indeed, 
with frijoles and chile (beans and red pepper), consists 
their principal food. The extravagant use of red pepper 
among the Mexicans has become truly proverbial. It 
enters into nearly every dish at every meal, and often so 
predominates as entirely to conceal the character of the 
viands. It is likewise ground into a sauce, and thus used 
even more abundantly than butter. Chile verde (green 
pepper), not as a mere condiment, but as a salad, served up 
in different ways, is reckoned by them one of the greatest 
luxuries. But however much we may be disposed to ques- 
tion their taste in this particular, no one can hesitate to do 
homage to their incomparable chocolate, in the preparation 
of which the Mexicans surely excel every other people. 

Besides these, many other articles of diet peculiar to the 
country, and adopted from the aborigines, are still in use — 

"'Francisco Xavier Clavigero, of Mexican birth (1731), entered the Jesuit 
order, and taught history and rhetoric in their college in his native country. He 
became interested in the subject of Aztec antiquities, and made researches of 
value. Interrupted by the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, Clavigero retired to 
Italy, where in 1780 appeared his history in Italian, Storia Antica del Messico. 
A Spanish version appeared later, and an English translation in 1787, the year 
of the author's death. *'His Storia della California (Venice, 1789), was issued 
posthumously. — Ed. 

294 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

often of rich and exquisite flavor, and though usually not 
much relished at first by strangers, they are for the most 
part highly esteemed after a little use. 

The rancheros, and all the humbler classes [155] of people, 
very seldom use any table for their meals, an inconvenience 
which is very little felt, as the dishes are generally served out 
from the kitchen in courses of a single plate to each guest, 
who usually takes it upon his knees. Knives and forks are 
equally dispensed with, the viands being mostly hashed or 
boiled so very soft as to be eaten with a spoon. This is 
frequently supplied by the tortilla^ a piece of which is in- 
geniously doubled between the fingers, so as to assist in the 
disposal of anything, be it ever so rare or liquid. Thus it 
may well be said, as in the story of the Oriental monarch, 
that these rancheros employ a new spoon for every mouth- 
ful: for each fold of the tortilla is devoured with the sub- 
stance it conveys to the mouth. 

The very singular custom of abstaining from all sorts of 
beverage during meals, has frequently afforded me a great 
deal of amusement. Although a large cup of water is set 
before each guest, it is not customary to drink it off till the 
repast is finished. Should any one take it up in his hand 
while in the act of eating, the host is apt to cry out, "Hold, 
hold ! there is yet more to come. " I have never been able 
to ascertain definitely the meaning of this peculiarity; but 
from the strictness with which it is observed, it is natural to 
suppose, that the use of any kind of drink whilst eating, is 
held extremely unwholesome."^ [156] The New Mexicans 
use but little wine at meals, and that exclusively of the pro- 
duce of the Paso del Norte. 

But to return to the productions of the soil. Cotton is 

"' What also strikes the stranger as a singularity in that country, is that the 
females rarely ever eat with the males — at least in the presence of strangers — 
but usually take their food in the kitchen by themselves. — Gregg. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 295 

cultivated to no extent, although it has always been con- 
sidered as indigenous to the country; while the ancient 
manufactures of the aborigines prove it to have been es- 
pecially so in this province. Flax is entirely neglected, 
and yet a plant resembling in every respect that of the 
linum iisitatissimum, is to be found in great abundance 
in many of the mountain valleys. The potato {la papa), 
although not cultivated in this country till very lately, 
is unquestionably an indigenous plant, being still found 
in a state of nature in many of the mountain valleys 
— though of small size, seldom larger than filberts : 
whence it appears that this luxury had not its exclusive 
origin in South America, as is the current opinion of the 
present day."* Universal as the use of tobacco is among 
these people, there is very little of it grown, and that chiefly 
of a light and weak species, called by the natives punche, 
which is also indigenous, and still to be met with growing 
wild in some places. What has in a great measure con- 
tributed to discourage people from attending to the culti- 
vation of the tobacco plant, is the monopoly of this indis- 
pensable by the federal government ; for although the tobacco 
laws are not enforced in New Mexico (there being no Estan- 
quillo, or public store-house), yet the people cannot carry 
it anywhere else in the [157] republic for sale, without risk 
of its being immediately confiscated. A still more power- 
ful cause operating against this, as well as every other branch 
of agriculture in New Mexico, is the utter want of navigable 
streams, as a cheap and convenient means of transpor- 
tation to distant markets. 

Famous as the republic of Mexico has been for the quality 
and variety of its fruits, this province, considering its lati- 

"* The potato (Spanish patata) is a native of both North and South America, 
being indigenous in both tropical and semi-tropical mountain districts, from Chile 
to the southern part of Colorado. — Ed. 

296 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

tude, is most singularly destitute in this respect. A few- 
orchards of apples, peaches and apricots, are occasionally 
met with, but even these are of very inferior quality, being 
only esteemed in the absence of something better. A few 
small vineyards are also to be found in the valley of the Rio 
del Norte, but the grape does not thrive as at El Paso."" 
The mode of cultivating the grape in these parts is some- 
what peculiar, and might, I have no doubt, be practised to 
great advantage in other countries. No scaffold or support 
of any kind is erected for the vines, which are kept pruned 
so as to form a sort of shrubbery. Every fall of the year, 
these are completely covered with earth, which protects 
them during the winter. Upon the opening of spring the 
dirt is scraped away, and the vines pruned again. This 
being repeated from year to year, the shrubs soon acquire 
sufficient strength to support the heavy crops of improved 
and superiorly-flavored grapes which they finally produce. 

Indigenous wild fruits are not quite so scarce; a clear 
evidence that the lack of cultivated [158] fruit is not so 
much the fault of nature, as the result of indolence and 
neglect on the part of the people. The prickly pear is 
found in greatest abundance, and of several varieties: and 
though neither very wholesome nor savory, it is neverthe- 
less frequently eaten. 

There is but little timber in New Mexico, except in the 
mountains and along the water-courses; the table-plains 
and valleys are generally all open prairie. The forest 
growths, moreover, of all the north of Mexico, present quite 
a limited variety of timber, among which a species of pitch- 
pine mostly predominates. The tree which appears to be 
most peculiar to the country, is a kind of scrub pine called 

^" The fruit of New Mexico is now coming into our markets in large quan- 
tities. Apples hold the chief place; grapes are also well known, the value of prop- 
erty devoted to that industry (1903) exceeding three million dollars. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^SS'^ Commerce of the Prairies 297 

pinon, which grows generally to the height of twenty or thirty 
feet, with leaves ever-green and pine-like, but scarcely an 
inch long/^° From the surface of this tree exudes a species 
of turpentine resembling that of the pitch-pine, but perhaps 
less resinous. The wood is white and firm, and much used 
for fuel. The most remarkable appendage of this tree is the 
fruit it bears, which is also known by the same name. This 
is a little nut about the size of a kidney-bean, with a rich 
oily kernel in a thin shell, enclosed in a chestnut-like bur. 
It is of pleasant flavor and much eaten by the natives, and 
considerable quantities are exported annually to the southern 
cities. It is sometimes used for the manufacture of a cer- 
tain kind of oil, said to be very good for lamps. 

The mezquite tree, vulgarly called muskeet [159] in Texas, 
where it has attained some celebrity, grows in some of the 
fertile valleys of Chihuahua to the height of thirty and forty 
feet, with a trunk of one to two feet in diameter. The 
wood makes excellent fuel, but it is seldom used for other 
purposes, as it is crooked, knotty, and very coarse and brit- 
tle, more resembling the honey-locust (of which it might be 
considered a scrubby species) than the mahogany, as some 
people have asserted. The fruit is but a diminutive honey- 
locust in appearance and flavor, of the size and shape of a 
flattened bean-pod, with the seeds disposed in like manner. 
This pod, which, like that of the honey-locust, encloses a 
glutinous substance, the Apaches and other tribes of Indians 
grind into flour to make their favorite pinole. The mez- 
quite seems undoubtedly of the Acacia Arabica species; as 
some physicians who have examined the gum which exudes 
from the tree, pronounce it genuine Arabic. ^^^ 

On the water-courses there is little timber to be found 

'^^ Pinon is a Spanish-American word applied to several varieties of nut-bearing 
pines of the Rocky Mountains: Pinus Porryana, P. edulis, etc. — Ed. 
'" For the mezquite, see our volume xviii, p. 94, note 56. — Ed. 

298 Rarly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

except Cottonwood, scantily scattered along their banks. 
Those of the Rio del Norte are now nearly bare throughout 
the whole range of the settlements, and the inhabitants are 
forced to resort to the distant mountains for most of their 
fuel. But nowhere, even beyond the settlements, are there 
to be seen such dense cottonwood bottoms as those of the 
Mississippi valley. Besides the common cottonwood there 
is another to be found upon the mountain streams of New 
Mexico, which has been called willow-leaf [160] or bitter 
cottonwood {populus angustijolia?) and has been reckoned 
by some a species of cinchona, yet for no other reason per- 
haps than that the bark possesses efficacious tonic qualities. 
Attached to the seeds of this tree is also a cotton similar to 
that of the sweet cottonwood, or populus angulata. 

Among the wild productions of New Mexico is the palmilla 
— a species of palmetto, which might be termed the soap- 
plant — whose roots, as well as those of another species 
known as palma (or palm), when bruised, form a sapona- 
ceous pulp called amok, much used by the natives for wash- 
ing clothes, and is said to be even superior to soap for scour- 
ing woolens.^" 

But by far the most important indigenous product of the 
soil of New Mexico is its pasturage. Most of the high 
table-plains afford the finest grazing in the world, while, 
for want of water, they are utterly useless for most other 
purposes. That scanty moisture which suffices to bring 
forth the natural vegetation, is insufficient for agricultural 
productions, without the aid of irrigation. The high 
prairies of all Northern Mexico differ greatly from those of 
our border in the general character of their vegetation. 
They are remarkably destitute of the gay flowering plants 

'" The soap-plant is of the Uly rather than of the pahn family — Chlorogalutn 
pomeridianum. It has long hnear leaves, with a panicle of white Jflowers. The 
bulb is the part employed, and was used by the Indians before the Spanish con- 
quest. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G'rfg-^'j- Commerce of the Prairies 299 

for which the former are so celebrated, being mostly clothed 
with different species of a highly nutritious grass called 
grama, which is of a very short and curly quality. The 
highlands, upon which alone this sort of grass is produced, 
[161] being seldom verdant till after the rainy season sets 
in, the grama is only in perfection from August to October. 
But being rarely nipt by the frost until the rains are over, 
it cures upon the ground and remains excellent hay — 
equal if not superior to that which is cut and stacked from 
our western prairies. Although the winters are rigorous, 
the feeding of stock is almost entirely unknown in New 
Mexico; nevertheless, the extensive herds of the country, 
not only of cattle and sheep, but of mules and horses, gen- 
erally maintain themselves in excellent condition upon the 
dry pasturage alone through the cold season, and until the 
rains start up the green grass again the following summer. 


The Mines of New Mexico — Supposed Concealment of them by the 
Indians — Indian Superstition and Cozenage — Ruins of La Gran 
Quivira — Old Mines — Placeres or Mines of Gold Dust — Specu- 
lative Theories as to the original Deposites of the Gold — Mode of 
Working the Placeres — Manners and Customs of the Miners — 
Arbitrary Restrictions of the Mexican Government upon Foreigners 

— Persecution of a Gachupin — Disastrous Effects of official Inter- 
ference upon the Mining Interest — Disregard of American Rights 
and of the U. States Government — Gamhucinos and their System 

— Gold found throughout N. Mexico — Silver Mines — Copper, 
Zinc and Lead — Sulphurous Springs — Gypsum, and Petrified 

Tradition speaks of numerous and productive mines 
having been in operation in New Mexico before the expul- 
sion of the Spaniards in 1680; but that the Indians, seeing 
that the cupidity of the conquerors had been the cause of 
their former cruel oppressions, determined to conceal all 
the mines by filling them up, and obliterating as much as 
possible every trace of them. This was done so effectually, 

^oo Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

as is told, that after the second conquest (the Spaniards in 
the mean time not having turned their attention to mining 
pursuits for a series of years), succeeding generations were 
never able to discover them again. Indeed it is now gen- 
erally credited by the Spanish population, [163] that the 
Pueblo Indians, up to the present day, are acquainted with 
the locales of a great number of these wonderful mines, of 
which they most sedulously preserve the secret. Rumor 
further asserts that the old men and sages of the Pueblos 
periodically lecture the youths on this subject, warning 
them against discovering the mines to the Spaniards, lest 
the cruelties of the original conquest be renewed towards 
them, and they be forced to toil and suffer in those mines 
as in days of yore. To the more effectual preservation of 
secrecy, it is also stated that they have called in the aid of 
superstition, by promulgating the belief that the Indian 
who reveals the location of these hidden treasures, will 
surely perish by the wrath of their gods. 

Playing upon the credulity of the people, it sometimes 
happens that a roguish Indian will amuse himself at the 
expense of his reputed superiors in intelligence, by proffer- 
ing to disclose some of these concealed treasures. I once 
knew a waggish savage of this kind to propose to show a 
valley where virgin gold could be ' scraped up by the basket- 
ful.' On a bright Sunday morning, the time appointed 
for the expedition, the chuckling Indian set out with a train 
of Mexicans at his heels, provided with mules and horses, 
and a large quantity of meal-bags to carry in the golden 
stores; but, as the shades of evening were closing around 
the party, he discovered — that he couldn't find the place. 

It is not at all probable, however, that the [164] aborigines 
possess a tenth part of the knowledge of these ancient 
fountains of wealth, that is generally attributed to them; 
but that many valuable mines were once wrought in this 

183 1 -1 839] G^^SS-^ Commerce of the Prairies 301 

province, not only tradition but authenticated records and 
existing relics sufficiently prove. In every quarter of the 
territory there are still to be seen vestiges of ancient excava- 
tions, and in some places, ruins of considerable towns evi- 
dently reared for mining purposes."^ 

Among these ancient ruins the most remarkable are those 
of La Gran Quivira, about 100 miles southward from Santa 
Fe/^* This appears to have been a considerable city, larger 
and richer by far than the present capital of New Mexico 
has ever been. Many walls, particularly those of churches, 
still stand erect amid the desolation that surrounds them, 
as if their sacredness had been a shield against which Time 
dealt his blows in vain. The style of architecture is alto- 
gether superior to anything at present to be found north of 
Chihuahua — being of hewn stone, a building material 
wholly unused in New Mexico. What is more extraordinary 
still, is, that there is no water within less than some ten 

*^ Very few mines were opened in New Mexico under the Spanish regime, 
and ahnost none before the Indian revolt of 1680. An official report of 1725 
states that not a single mine of gold or silver had ever been worked in the territory, 
and that all the plate required for the services of the church was imported at con- 
siderable cost from Mexico. — Ed. 

"* The myth of "La Gran Quivira" is comparable to that of "El Dorado" 
in South America. Coronado's march (1540) was undertaken in search of a 
mythical Quivira. Much later the myth attached itself to the place which Gregg 
describes — a series of ruins in northeastern Socorro County, on a desolate mesa 
one hundred and fifty miles south of Santa Fe. Search for fabulous hidden treasure 
has been conducted there for many years. Reports of modem archaeologists, 
notably those of A. F. Bandelier, have proved that the city which Gregg describes 
was a pueblo of the Piros Indians, commonly known as Tabira. This was 
first visited by the Spaniards in 1581; it rendered submission to Onate in 1598, 
and later a priest was assigned thereto. This mission was founded in 1628, and 
the first church built. In 1644 a new and larger church and convent were begun, 
which constitute the largest of the ruins. These are not of hewn stone, but of 
slabs of sandstone fastened -with adobe mortar, formed with Spanish tools. The 
site was abandoned between 1670 and 1675, because of Apache raids. The 
problem of the water supply was solved by the discovery of artificial reservoirs 
near the pueblo. Consult A. F. Bandelier, in The Nation, xl, pp. 348, 365; Arch- 
seological Institute of America Papers, American series, iv, part ii, pp. 282-291; 
Charles F. Lummis, The Land of Poco Tiempo (New York, 1893), chap. xi. — Ed. 

302 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

miles of the ruins; yet we find several stone cisterns, and 
remains of aqueducts eight or ten miles in length, leading 
from the neighboring mountains, from whence water was 
no doubt conveyed. And, as there seem to be no indications 
whatever of the inhabitants' ever having been engaged in 
agricultural pursuits, what could have induced the rearing 
of a city [165] in such an arid, woodless plain as this, except 
the proximity of some valuable mine, it is difficult to imagine. 
From the peculiar character of the place and the remains of 
the cisterns still existing, the object of pursuit in this case 
would seem to have been a placer, a name applied to mines 
of gold-dust intermixed with the earth. However, other 
mines have no doubt been worked in the adjacent moun- 
tains, as many spacious pits are found, such as are usually 
dug in pursuit of ores of silver, etc.; and it is stated that in 
several places heaps of scoria are still to be seen. 

By some persons these ruins have been supposed to be 
the remains of an ancient Pueblo or aboriginal city. That 
is not probable, however; for though the relics of aboriginal 
temples might possibly be mistaken for those of Catholic 
churches, yet it is not to be presumed that the Spanish coat 
of arms would be found sculptured and painted upon their 
facades, as is the case in more than one instance. The 
most rational accounts represent this to have been a wealthy 
Spanish city before the general massacre of 1680, in which 
calamity the inhabitants perished — all except one, as the 
story goes; and that their immense treasures were buried 
in the ruins. Some credulous adventurers have lately 
visited the spot in search of these long lost coffers, but as 
yet none have been found. ^^* 

'" In the same vicinity there are some other ruins of a similar character, though 
less extensive; the principal of which are those of Abo, Tagique and Chilili. The 
last of these is now being resettled by the Mexicans. — Gregg. 

Comment by Ed. The last of these pueblo ruins is in southeastern Sandoval 
County; the first two in Valencia. Abo is of Piros origin, with a history similar 

183 1 -1 83 9] Gregg s Commerce of the Prairies 303 

[166] The mines of Cerrillos,"'^ twenty miles southward 
of Santa Fe, although of undoubted antiquity, have, to all 
appearance, been worked to some extent within the present 
century; indeed, they have been reopened within the recol- 
lection of the present generation; but the enterprise having 
been attended with little success, it was again abandoned. 
Among numerous pits still to be seen at this place, there is 
one of immense depth cut through solid rock, which it is 
believed could not have cost less than $100,000. In the 
mountains of Sandia, Abiquiii, and more particularly in 
those of Picuris and Embudo, there are also numerous 
excavations of considerable depth.*" A few years ago an 
enterprising American undertook to reopen one of those 
near Picuris; but after having penetrated to the depth of 
more than a hundred feet, without reaching the bottom of 
the original excavation (which had probably been filling up 
for the last hundred and fifty years), he gave it up for want 
of means. Other attempts have since been made, but with 
as little success. Whether these failures have been caused 
by want of capital and energy, or whether the veins of ore 
were exhausted by the original miners, remains for future 
enterprise to determine. 

The only successful mines known in New Mexico at the 

to that of Tabira (Quivira). Tajique and Chilili were Tigua pueblos built near 
the sahnes, probably in the seventeenth century, and abandoned before 1680 
because of Apache raids. The modern village of ChiUli is founded on a grant 
made in 1841. 

'^ Cerillos, about twenty miles south of Santa Fe, is on the main line of the 
Atchison, Topeka and Santa F^ Railway, a small mining town with a smelter in 
operation. Neighboring mines are of gold, silver, lead, and zinc ore; and a few 
miles distant is Turquesa, where turquoises have been mined from prehistoric 
times, and are still taken out by the American Turquoise Company. Cerillos is 
claimed as the oldest gold-mining district in the United States. — Ed. 

"' The Sandia Mountains are in southeastern Sandoval and northeastern 
Bemahllo counties. For Abiquiu, see our volume xviii, note 47. Picuris is a 
pueblo among the mountains of Taos County. Embudo is a small settlement 
in Rio Arriba. — Ed. 

304 Rarly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

present day, are those of gold, the most important one of 
which is that originally incorporated as El Real de Dolores, 
but generally known by the significant name of [167] El 
Placer."^ This mine lies in a low detached spur of moun- 
tains, at a distance of twenty-seven miles south of the capi- 
tal. In 1828, a Sonoreno who was in the habit of herding 
his mules in that vicinity, being one day in pursuit of some 
that had strayed into the mountains, happened to pick up 
a stone, which he soon identified as being of the same class 
that was to be found in the gold regions of Sonora. Upon 
a little further examination, he detected sundry particles 
of gold, which did not fail to occasion some degree of excite- 
ment in the country. Although the amount procured from 
these mines, was, for the first two or three years, very in- 
significant, yet it answered the purpose of testing the quality 
of the metal, which was found to be of uncommon purity. 
A market was therefore very soon opened with foreign 

The quantity of gold extracted between the years 1832 
and '35 could not have amounted to less than from $60,000 
to $80,000 per annum. Since this time, however, there has 
been a considerable falling off, some seasons producing but 
$30,000 or $40,000. It is believed, notwithstanding, that 
the entire aggregate yield since the first discovery has ex- 
ceeded half a million of dollars. The reduction in profit 
during the last few years has been caused more by want of 
energy and enterprise, than by exhaustion of the precious 
metal, as only a very small portion of the 'gold region' has 
as yet been dug; and experience has shown that the 'dust' 
is about [168] as likely to be found in one part of it as in 

*^* This mining region in southern Santa Y€ County still produces much gold. 
If there were more water, the amount might be large; but modem methods are 
being introduced, and the production increased. A nugget of gold worth four 
hundred doUars was found some time since at Dolores, and throughout a district 
of eight miles there is much placer gold. — Ed. 

1 83 1 -1 839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 305 

another. All the best 'diggings' in the immediate vicinity 
of the water, however, seem pretty well excavated: in some 
places the hills and valleys are literally cut up like a honey- 

It has been the impression of some persons, that the gold 
of this region was originally accumulated in some particular 
deposit, and that it has thus been spread over the surface 
of the country by some volcanic eruption. 

The dust and grains obtained at this mine, are virgin 
gold, and, as before remarked, of very fine quality, pro- 
ducing at the United States Mint an average of at least 
$19 70 to the ounce troy after melting, or about $19 30 
gross. It was at first bought by the traders at the rate of 
fifteen dollars per ounce, but in consequence of the compe- 
tition which was afterwards excited among the dealers, its 
price was raised for a short time above its maximum at the 
Mint, although it has since settled down at about $17 30 
per ounce troy. 

During the process of these excavations, when such a 
depth has been reached as to render a ladder indispensable, 
a pole ten or fifteen feet long is cut full of notches for that 
purpose, and set diagonally in the orifice. In proportion 
as the pit becomes deeper, others are added, forming a 
somewhat precarious zigzag staircase, by which the agile 
miner descends and ascends without even using his hands 
to assist himself, although with a large [169] load of earth 
upon his shoulders. It is in this way that most of the rub- 
bish is extracted from these mines, as windlasses or machin- 
ery of any kind are rarely used. 

The winter season is generally preferred by the miners, 
for the facilities it affords of supplying the gold-washers 
with water in the immediate neighborhood of their opera- 
tions ; for the great scarcity of water about the mining regions 
is a very serious obstacle at other seasons to successful 

306 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

enterprise. Water in winter is obtained by melting a quan- 
tity of snow thrown into a sink, with heated stones. Those 
employed as washers are very frequently the wives and 
children of the miners. A round wooden bowl called haiea^ 
about eighteen inches in diameter, is the washing [170] 
vessel, which they fill with the earth, and then immerse it 
in the pool, and stir it with their hands; by which operation 
the loose dirt floats off, and the gold settles to the bottom. 
In this manner they continue till nothing remains in the 
bottom of the haiea but a little heavy black sand mixed with 
a few grains of gold, the value of which (to the trayful) 
varies from one to twelve cents, and sometimes, in very 
rich soils, to twenty-five or more. Some attempts have 
been made to wash with machinery, but as yet without suc- 
cess; partly owing to the scarcity of water, but as much per- 
haps to a lack of perseverance, and to the arbitrary restric- 
tions imposed upon foreigners, who, after all, are the only 
persons that have ever attempted any improvements of the 
kind. An instance or two will fully illustrate the embar- 
rassments and disadvantages to which foreigners are sub- 
ject, in embarking capital in mining enterprises in this 

When the Placer was in its greatest bonanza — yielding 
very large profits to those engaged in the business — the 
'mining fever' rose to such a tremendous pitch among the 
New Mexicans, particularly the government officers, that 
every one fancied he saw a door opened for the accumulation 
of a princely fortune. 

About the commencement of this gold mania, a very 
arbitrary and tyrannical measure was adopted in order to 
wrest from a persecuted Gachupin^'^^ his interest in a mine, 
in [171] which he had made a very propitious commence- 
ment. This mine, different from the rest of the Placer, 

"' A term used to designate European Spaniards in America. — Gregg. 

183 1 -1 83 9] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 307 

consisted of a vein of gold in a stratum of rock, which it was 
necessary to grind and separate with quicksilver; and as it 
belonged to a native named Ortiz who knew nothing of 
this operation, the latter formed a partnership with Don 
Damaso Lopez, the Gachupin before alluded to, who had 
some experience and skill in mining operations and the 
extraction of metals. The partners went vigorously to 
work, and at the close of the first month found that their 
net profits amounted to several hundred dollars, consisting 
in a few balls of gold. At the sight of these, Ortiz was so 
overjoyed that he must needs exhibit his valuable acquisi- 
tions to the governor and other officers and magnates of the 
capital, who, with characteristic cupidity, at once begrudged 
the Gachupin his prospective fortune. A compact was 
thereupon entered into between the o-ficiales and the ac- 
quiescent Ortiz, to work the mine on their joint account, 
and to exclude Lopez altogether. This they effected by 
reviving the old decree of expulsion (spoken of in another 
place), which had virtually become obsolete. The un- 
fortunate victim of this outrageous conspiracy was accord- 
ingly ordered to the frontier, as the patriotic officers alleged 
that they "could no longer connive at his residence so near 
the capital in contravention of the laws." 

The new company now commenced operations with 
additional zeal and earnestness. [172] But they were 
destined to expiate their ill conduct in a way they had 
least anticipated. The ores collected during the first month, 
had been ground and impregnated with quicksilver, and 
the amalgamation being supposed complete, all the partners 
in the concern were summoned to witness the splendid re- 
sults of the new experiments. Yet, after the most diligent 
examination, not a grain of gold appeared! The fact is, 
that they were all ignorant of mining operations, and knew 
nothing of the art of separating the metals from the ores. 

308 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

The mine had therefore soon to be abandoned, and Ortiz 
found himself prostrated by his losses — a victim to the 
unprincipled rapacity of his new associates. ^^^ 

Lest foreigners generally should share the wealth which 
was being developed in these mountains, an order was 
subsequently issued prohibiting all except natives from 
working at the mines. Some who had commenced opera- 
tions at the Placer, and incurred considerable expense, were 
compelled suddenly to break up, with an entire loss of all 
their labor and outlays. 

Acts of political oppression like these have discouraged 
Americans from making any further attempts, although the 
decree of prohibition has ceased to be enforced. Could 
any dependence be placed in the integrity of the govern- 
ment, I have no doubt that, with sufficient capital and the 
aid of machinery (such as is used in the mines of Georgia 
and Carolina), the old mines of this province might be 
[173] reopened, and a great number of the placeres very 
extensively and profitably worked. But as New Mexico 
is governed at present, there is no security in an enterprise 
j of the kind. The progress of a foreign adventurer is always 
; liable to be arrested by the jealousy of the government, 
upon the first flattering bonanza, as the cited instances 
abundantly demonstrate. Americans in particular would 
have little to hope for in the way of redress; for our govern- 
ment has shown itself so tardy in redressing or revenging 
injuries done its citizens by foreign states, that they would 
be oppressed, as they have been, with less scruple because 
with more impunity than the subjects of any other nation. 

IThe gold regions are, for the most part, a kind of common 
property, and have been wrought chiefly by an indigent 
class of people, known familiarly as gambucinos, a name 

"° There is now an Ortiz mine, worked by a St. Louis company, having a 
large modem plant, near the site of the mine described by Gregg. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 309 

applied to petty miners who work 'on their own hook.* 
Among these one very seldom finds any foreigners; for 
according to the present simple method of working, the 
profit is too small and too precarious to entice the indepen- 
dent American laborer, who is seldom willing to work for 
less than a dollar a day, clear of all expenses; while the 
Mexican gambucino is content with two or three reales, 
most of which is required to furnish him food. Therefore 
these poor miners lead a miserable life after all. When 
short of means they often support themselves upon only a 
real each per day, their usual food consisting of bread and 
a kind of [174] coarse cake-sugar called piloncillo, to which 
is sometimes added a little crude ranchero cheese; yet they 
seem perfectly satisfied. 

To prevent collision among such heterogeneous multitudes 
as are to be found at the mining places, some municipal 
provisions have been established, in pursuance of which 
any person may open a labor or pit on unoccupied ground 
not nearer than ten paces to another, and is entitled to the 
same extent in every direction, not interfering with prior 
claims — his labor being confirmed for a small fee by appli- 
cation to the alcalde. But if the proprietor abandon his 
labor for a certain time, any one that chooses may take 

Besides the Placer of which I have already spoken, others 
have lately been discovered in the same ledge of mountains 
towards the south, one of which is now extensively worked, 
being already filled with retail shops of every description, 
where all the gold that is extracted, is either sold or bartered. 
The gambucinos being generally destitute of all other 
resources, are often obliged to dispose of their gold daily — 
and very frequently in driblets of but a few cents value. 
Placeres of gold have also been discovered in the mountains 
of Abiquiu, Taos and elsewhere, which have been worked 

3 1 o Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

to some extent. In truth, as some of the natives have justly 
remarked, New Mexico is almost one continuous placer \ 
traces of gold being discoverable over nearly the v^hole 
surface of the country. The opinion formerly entertained 
that gold is only to [175] be found in southern climates, 
seems fully confuted here; for at a point called Sangre de 
Cristo, considerably north of Taos, (above the 37th degree 
of latitude), and which from its location among the snowy 
mountains of that region, is ice-bound over half the year, 
a very rich 'placer has been discovered; yet owing to the 
peculiarly exposed situation in which it lies, it has been 
very little worked. ^^^ 

For the last century no silver mines have been in success- 
ful operation in New Mexico. A few years ago there was 
discovered near the village of Manzano, in the mountains 
of Tome, a vein of silver which bid fair to prove profitable; 
but when the ore came to be tested, the rock was found to 
be so hard that the pursuit has been entirely abandoned."^ 

In addition to gold and silver, there are also to be found, 
in many isolated spots, ores of copper, zinc, and lead; 
although the latter is so mixed up with copper and other 
hard metals, as to be almost unfit for ordinary purposes. 
The copper obtained in the province has frequently been 
found to contain a slight mixturt of the precious metals, 
well worth extracting. Iron is also abundant. 

Besides the mines of metals which have been discovered, 
or yet remain concealed in the mountains of New Mexico, 
those of Salt (or salt lakes, as they would perhaps be called), 
the Salinas, are of no inconsiderable importance. Near 
a hundred miles southward from the capital, on the high 

^^* The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are on the northern border of New Mexico, 
and its mineral region is a continuation of that of southern Colorado. Large 
mines are now in operation in this district. — Ed. 

"* The mines of the Manzano Mountains, east of Tome, on the Rio Grande 
in Valencia County, have not yet been developed. Silver production in New 
Mexico has in recent years notably diminished. — Ed. 

183 1 -1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 311 

table land between the Rio del Norte and Pecos, there are 
some extensive [176] salt ponds, which afford an inexhausti- 
ble supply of this indispensable commodity, not only for 
the consumption of this province, but for portions of the 
adjoining departments. The largest of these Salinas is 
five or six miles in circumference. The best time to collect 
the salt is during the dry season, when the lakes contain 
but little water; but even when flooded, salt may be scooped 
up from the bottom, where it is deposited in immense beds, 
in many places of unknown depth; and, when dried, much 
resembles the common alum salt. The best, however, 
which is of superior quality, rises as a scum upon the water. 
A great many years ago, a firm causeway was thrown up 
through the middle of the principal lake, upon which the 
carretas and mules are driven, and loaded with salt still 
dripping with water. The Salinas are public property, 
and the people resort to them several times a year, — in 
caravans, for protection against the savages of the desert 
in which they are situated. Although this salt costs nothing 
but the labor of carrying it away, the danger from the 
Indians and the privations experienced in an expedition 
to the Salinas are such, that it is seldom sold in the capital 
for less than a dollar per bushel. On the same great plain 
still a hundred miles further south, there is another Salina 
of the same character."' 

While I am on this subject, I cannot forbear a brief notice 
of the mineral springs of New Mexico. There are several 
warm springs {ojos calientes), whose waters are generally 
[177] sulphurous, and considered as highly efficacious in the 
cure of rheumatisms and other chronic diseases. Some 
are bold springs, and of a very agreeable temperature for 
bathing; but there is one in the west of the province, which 

'^ The northern salines in eastern Valencia County have long been utilized; 
the pueblos of Abo and Tajique (see note 125) were connected with this in- 
dustry. The southern salines are in southeast Socorro County, and but little de- 
veloped. — Ed. 

312 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

does not flow very freely, but merely escapes through the 
crevices of the rocks, yet it is hot enough to cook any article 
of food. It is a curious phenomenon, that, within a few 
paces of it, as in the case of the hot springs of Arkansas, 
there is another spring perfectly cold. 

New Mexico affords many interesting geological pro- 
ductions, of which the most useful to the natives is yeso or 
gypsum, which abounds in many places. Being found in 
foliated blocks, composed of laminae, which are easily 
separated with a knife into sheets from the thickness of 
paper to that of window-glass, and almost as transparent 
as the latter, it is used to a great extent in the ranchos and 
villages for window-lights, for which indeed it is a tolerable 

In several places about the borders of the mesas are to be 
found some beautiful specimens of petrified trees. One 
lies between Santa Fe and the Placer, broken into blocks 
since its petrifaction, which shows every knot, crack and 
splinter almost as natural as in its ligneous state. It is 
said that there are some of these arboreous petrifactions 
in the vicinity of Galisteo, still standing erect. 


Domestic Animals and their Condition — Indifiference on the subject 
of Horse-breeding — Caballos de Silla — Popularity and Usefulness 
of the Mule — Mode of harnessing and lading Mules for a Journey 

— Arrieros and their System — The Mulera or Bell-mare — Sur- 
prising feats of the Muleteers and Vaqueros — The Lazo and its uses 

— Ridiculous Usages of the country in regard to the Ownership of 
Animals — Anecdote of a Mexican Colonel — The Burro or domestic 
ass and its Virtues — Shepherds and their Habits — The Itinerant 
Herds of the Plains — Sagacity of the Shepherds' Dogs — The 
Sheep Trade — Destruction of Cattle by the Indians — Philo- 
sophical notions of the Marauders — Excellent Mutton — Goats 
and their Utility — Wild Animals and their Character — A ' Bear 
Scrape ' — Wolves, Panthers, Wild Birds and Reptiles — The Honey- 
bee, etc. 

Nothing that has come within my sphere of observation 
in New Mexico, has astonished me more than the little 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 313 

attention that is paid to the improvement of domestic ani- 
mals. While other nations have absolutely gone mad in 
their endeavors to better their breeds of horses, and have 
ransacked the four quarters of the world for the best blood 
and purest pedigrees, the New Mexicans, so justly cele- 
brated for skilful horsemanship, and so much devoted to 
equestrian exercise, that they have been styled a race of 
centaurs, leave the propagation of their horses exclusively 
to ,[179] chance; converting their best and handsomest 
steeds into saddle-horses. 

Their race of horses is identical with that which is found 
running wild on the Prairies, familiarly known by the name 
of mustang. Although generally very small, they are quick, 
active and spirited: and were they not commonly so much 
injured in the breaking, they would perhaps be as hardy 
and long-lived as any other race in existence. Some of 
their cahallos de silla or saddle-horses are so remarkably well 
trained, that they will stop suddenly upon the slightest check, 
charge against a wall without shrinking, and even attempt 
to clamber up its sides. In addition to this, a complete 
riding horse should have a peculiar up-and-down gait, 
affording all the exercise of the most violent trotter, while 
he gets over the ground so slowly as to enable the caballero 
to enjoy the 'pleasures' of a fatiguing ride of hours, without 
losing sight of his mistress's balcony. 

The little attention paid to the breeding of horses in New 
Mexico, may perhaps be accounted for from the fact that, 
until lately, when the continued depredations of the hostile 
Indians discouraged them from their favorite pursuit, the 
people of the country had bestowed all their care in the 
raising of mules. This animal is in fact to the Mexican, 
what the camel has always been to the Arab — invaluable for 
the transportation of freight over sandy deserts and moun- 
tainous roads, where no other means of conveyance could 
be used to [180] such advantage. These mules will travel 

3 1 4 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

for hundreds of miles with a load of the most bulky and 
unwieldy articles, weighing frequently three or four hundred 

The A pare jo (or pack-saddle, if it can be so styled), is a 
large pad, consisting of a leathern case stuffed with hay, 
which covers the back of the mule and extends half way 
down on both sides. This is secured with a wide sea-grass 
bandage, with which the poor brute is so tightly laced as to 
reduce the middle of its body to half its natural size. Dur- 
ing the operation of lacing, the corseted quadruped stands 
trembling in perfect agony, not an inapt emblem of some 
fashionable exquisites who are to be met with lounging on 
tip-toe, in all the principal thoroughfares of large cities. 

The muleteers contend that a tightly laced beast, will 
travel, or at least support burdens, with greater ease; and 
though they carry this to an extreme, still we can hardly 
doubt that a reasonable tension supports and braces the 
muscles. It is necessary too for the aparejo to be firmly 
bound on to prevent its slipping and chafing the mule's 
back; indeed, with all these precautions, the back, withers 
and sides of the poor brute are often horribly mangled — 
so much so that I have seen the rib-bones bare, from day 
to day, while carrying a usual load of three hundred pounds ! 
The aparejo is also furnished with a huge crupper, which 
often lacerates the tail most shockingly. It is this packing 
that leaves most of the lasting cicatrices and marks so com- 
mon upon Mexican mules. 

[181] The carga, if a single package, is laid across the 
mule's back, but when composed of two, they are placed 
lengthwise, side by side; and being coupled with a cord, they 
are bound upon the aparejo with a long rope of sea-grass 
or raw-hide, which is so skilfully and tensely twined about 
the packages as effectually to secure them upon the animal. 
The mule is at first so tightly bound that it seems scarcely 

183 1- 1 839] Gregg's Co7?imerce of the Prairies 317 

able to move; but the weight of the pack soon settles the 
aparejo, and so loosens the girths and cords as frequently 
to render it necessary to tighten them again soon after get- 
ting under way. It keeps most of the muleteers actively 
employed during the day, to maintain the packs in condition ; 
for they often lose their balance and sometimes fall off. 
This is done without detaining the aia]o (drove of pack- 
mules), the rest of which travel on while one is stopped to 
adjust its disordered pack. Indeed it is apt to occasion 
much trouble to stop a heavily laden aia]o\ for, if allowed 
a moment's rest, the mules are inclined to lie down, when 
it is with much difficulty they can rise again with their loads. 
In their efforts to do so they sometimes so strain their loins 
as to injure them ever after. The day's travel is made 
without a nooning respite; for the consequent unloading 
and reloading would consume too much time: and as a 
heavily-packed atajo should rarely continue en route more 
than five or sLx hours, the Jornada de recua (day's journey 
of a pack-drove) is usually but twelve or fifteen miles. 

[182] It is truly remarkable to observe with what dexterity 
and skill the Arrieros, or muleteers, harness and adjust the 
packs of merchandise upon their beasts. Half a dozen 
usually sufi&ce for forty or fifty mules. Two men are always 
engaged at a time in the dispatch of each animal, and rarely 
occupy five minutes in the complete adjustment of his 
aparejo and carga. In this operation they frequently 
demonstrate a wonderful degree of skill in the application 
of their strength. A single man will often seize a package, 
which, on a 'dead lift,' he could hardly have raised from 
the ground, and making a fulcrum of his knees and a lever 
of his arms and body, throw it upon the mule's back with 
as much apparent ease as if the effort cost him but little 
exertion. At stopping-places the task of unpacking is 
executed with still greater expedition. The packages are 

3 1 8 Rarly Western Travels [Vol. 19 

piled in a row upon the ground, and in case of rain the 
aparejos are laid upon them, over which is stretched a cover- 
ing of mantas de guangoche (sheets of sea-grass texture), 
which protects the goods against the severest storms; a 
ditch also being cut around the pile, to prevent the water 
from running underneath. In this way freights are carried 
from point to point, and over the most rugged mountain 
passes at a much cheaper rate than foreigners can transport 
their merchandise in wagons, even through a level country. 
The cheapness of this mode of transportation arises from 
the very low wages paid to the arrieros, and the little expense 
incurred to feed [183] both them and the mules. The 
salary of the muleteer ranges from two to five dollars per 
month; and as their food seldom consists of anything else 
except corn and jrijoles, it can be procured at very little 
cost. When the arrieros get any meat at all, it is generally 
at their own expense^^ 

An atajo is conducted in a very systematic manner, each 
arriero having his appropriate sphere of action allotted to 
him. They have also their regulations and technicalities, 
which, if not as numerous, are about as unintelligible to the 
uninitiated as sailors' terms. One person, called the 
savanero, has the charge of the mules at night, which are 
all turned loose without tether or hopple, with the mulera 
or bell-mare, to prevent them from straying abroad. Al- 
though the attachment of the mules to the mulera appears 
very great, it seems to be about as much for the bell as for 
the animal. What the queen-bee is to a hive, so is the 
mulera to an atajo. No matter what may be the temper 
of a mule, it can seldom be driven away from her; and if 
she happen to be taken from among her associates, the 
latter immediately become depressed and melancholy, and 
ramble and whinny in every direction, as if they were com- 
pletely lost. In addition to preparmg food for the party, 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 319 

it is the office of the madre (or mother, as the cook of the 
company is facetiously called) to lead the mulera ahead, 
during the journey, after which the whole pack follows in 
orderly procession. 

[184] The muleteers, as well as the vaqueros (cow-herds), 
are generally mounted upon swift and well-trained horses, 
and in their management of the animals will often perform 
many surprising feats, which would grace an equestrian 
circus in any country; such, for instance, as picking up a 
dollar from the ground at every pass with the horse at full 
gallop. But the greatest display of skill and agility consists 
in their dextrous use of the lazo or lareat,^^* which is usually 
made of horse-hair, or sea-grass tightly twisted together, 
with a convenient noose at one end. Their aim is always 
more sure when the animal to be caught is running at full 
speed, for then it has no time to dodge the lareat. As soon 
as the noose is cast, the lazador fetches the end of his lazo 
a turn round the high pommel of his saddle, and by a quick 
manoeuvre the wildest horse is brought up to a stand or 
topsy-turvy at his pleasure. By this process, the head of 
the animal is turned towards his subduer, who, in order to 
obtain the mastery over him more completely, seldom fails 
to throw a hozal (or half-hitch, as boatmen would say) 
around the nose, though at full rope's length. 

If the object of pursuit happens to be a cow or an ox, the 
lazo is usually thrown about the horns instead of the neck. 
Two vaqueros, [185] each with his rope to the horns, will 
thus subject the wildest and most savage bull, provided they 
are mounted upon well-trained steeds. While the infuriated 
animal makes a lunge at one of his pursuers, the other 
wheels round and pulls upon his rope, which always brings 

'** Lasso and lariat, as most usually written, are evidently corruptions of the 
Spanish lazo and la reata (the latter with the article la compounded), both meaning 
kinds of rope. I have therefore preferred retaining the orthography indicated 
by their etymology. — Gregg. 

320 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

the beast about in the midst of his career; so that between 
the two he is jerked to and fro till he becomes exhausted 
and ceases to make any further resistance. The use of the 
lazo is not confined to the arrieros and vaqueros, although 
these generally acquire most skill in that exercise : it prevails 
in every rank of life; and no man, especially among the 
rancheros, would consider his education complete until he 
had learned this national accomplishment. They acquire 
it in fact from infancy; for it forms one of the principal 
rural sports of children, who may daily be seen with their 
lazitos, noosing the dogs and chickens about the yards, in 
every direction. 

The lazo is often employed also as a 'weapon' both of- 
fensive and defensive. In skirmishes with the Indians, the 
mounted vaquero, if haplessly without arms, will throw this 
formidable object round the neck or the body of his enemy, 
who, before he has time to disencumber himself, is jerked 
to the ground and dragged away at full speed; when, if his 
brains are not beaten out against the stones, roots, or trees, 
he becomes at least so stunned and disabled that the lazador 
can dispatch him at his leisure. The panther, the bear, 
and other ferocious animals of the mountains and [186] 
prairies, are also successfully attacked in this manner. 

The laws and customs of the country with regard to the 
ownership of animals are very annoying to the inexperienced 
foreign traveller. No matter how many proprietors a horse 
or mule may have had, every one marks him with a huge 
hieroglyphic brand, which is called the fierro, and again, 
upon selling him, with his venta, or sale-brand ; until at last 
these scars become so multiplied as to render it impossible 
for persons not versed in this species of 'heraldry,' to de- 
termine whether the animal has been properly vented or not : 
yet any fierro without its corresponding venta lays the beast 
liable to the claim of the brander. Foreigners are the most 

1831-1839] G^^SS''^ Commerce of the Prairies 321 

frequently subjected to this kind of imposition; and when 
a party of estrangeros enters any of the southern towns, they 
are immediately surrounded by a troop of loungers, who 
carefully examine every horse and mule; when, should they 
by chance discover any unvented brand, they immediately 
set to work to find some one with a branding-iron of the 
same shape, by which the beast is at once claimed and taken ; 
for in all legal processes the only proof required of the claim- 
ant is his fierro, or branding-iron, which, if found to assimi- 
late in shape with the mark on the animal, decides the suit 
in his favor. A colonel in Chihuahua once claimed a mule 
of me in this manner, but as I was convinced that I had 
bought it of the legitimate owner, I refused to give it up. 
The oflScer, unwilling [187] to lose his prize, started im- 
mediately for the alcalde, in hopes of inducing that func- 
tionary to lend him the aid of the law ; but during his absence 
I caused the shoulder of the animal to be shorn, so that 
the venta became distinctly visible. As soon as the dis- 
covery was made known to the colonel and his judge, they 
made a precipitate exit, as though conscious of detected 

But while I fully acknowledge the pretensions of the 
mule, as an animal of general usefulness, I must not forget 
paying a passing tribute to that meek and unostentatious 
member of the brute family, the 'patient ass;' or, as it is 
familiarly called by the natives, el burro. This docile 
creature is here emphatically the 'poor man's friend,' being 
turned to an infinite variety of uses, and always submissive 
under the heaviest burdens. He is not only made to carry 
his master's grain, his fuel, his water, and his luggage, but 
his wife and his children. Frequently the whole family is 
stowed away together upon one diminutive donkey. In 
fact, the chief riding animal of the peasant is the burro, 
upon which saddle, bridle, or halter, is seldom used. The 

322 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

rider, seated astride his haunches instead of his back, guides 
the docile beast with a bludgeon which he carries in his 

Nothing, perhaps, has been more systematically attended 
to in New Mexico than the raising of sheep. When the 
territory was at the zenith of its prosperity, ranchos were to 
be met with upon the borders of every stream, [188] and in 
the vicinity of every mountain where water was to be had. 
Even upon the arid and desert plains, and many miles away 
from brook or pond, immense flocks were driven out to 
pasture, and only taken to water once in two or three days. 
On these occasions it is customary for the shepherds to load 
their burros with guages filled with water, and return again 
with their folds to the plains. The guage is a kind of gourd, 
of which there are some beautiful specimens with two bulbs ; 
the intervening neck serving to retain the cord by which it 
is carried. 

These itinerant herds of sheep generally pass the night 
wherever the evening finds them, without cot or enclosure. 
Before nightfall the principal shepherd sallies forth in 
search of a suitable site for his hato, or temporary sheep- 
fold; and building a fire on the most convenient spot, the 
sheep generally draw near it of their own accord. Should 
they incline to scatter, the shepherd then seizes a torch and 
performs a circuit or two around the entire fold, by which 
manoeuvre, in their efforts to avoid him, the heads of the 
sheep are all turned inwards; and in that condition they 
generally remain till morning, without once attempting to 
stray. It is unnecessary to add that the flock is well guarded 
during the night by watchful and sagacious dogs against 
prowling wolves or other animals of prey. The well-trained 
shepherd's dog of this country is indeed a prodigy: two or 
three of them will follow a flock of sheep for a distance [189] 
of several miles as orderly as a shepherd, and drive them 

1831-1839] G^^Si^ Commerce of the Prairies 323 

back to the pen again at night, without any other guidance 
than their own extraordinary instincts. 

In former times there were extensive proprietors who 
had their ranches scattered over half the province, in some 
cases amounting to from three to five hundred thousand 
head of sheep. The custom has usually been to farm out 
the ewes to the rancheros, who make a return of twenty per 
cent, upon the stock in merchantable cameras — a term 
applied to sheep generally, and particularly to wethers fit 
for market. 

Sheep may be reckoned the staple production of New I 
Mexico, and the principal article of exportation. ^^^ Between 
ten and twenty years ago, about 200,000 head were annually 
driven to the southern markets; indeed, it is asserted, that, 
during the most flourishing times, as many as 500,000 were 
exported in one year. This trade has constituted a profita- 
ble business to some of the ricos of the country. They 
would buy sheep of the poor rancheros at from fifty to 
seventy-five cents per head, and sell them at from one to 
two hundred per cent, advance in the southern markets. 
A large quantity of wool is of course produced, but of an 
inferior quality. Inconsiderable amounts have been intro- 
duced into the United States via Missouri, which have 
sometimes been sold as low as fifteen cents per pound. It 
is bought, however, at the New Mexican ranchos at a very 
low rate — [190] three or four cents per pound, or (as more 
generally sold) per fleece, which will average, perhaps, but 
little over a pound. Yet, from the superiority of the pas- 
turage and climate. New Mexico might doubtless grow the 
finest wool in the world. In conformity with their char- 
acteristic tardiness in improvement, however, the natives 

'^* Sheep-raising is still the largest industry in New Mexico ; the wool crop for 
1903-04 was twenty million pounds, and there were over five million head of sheep 
upon the ranges. — Ed. 

324 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

have retained their original stocks, which are wretchedly 
degenerate. They formerly sheared their flocks chiefly 
for their health, and rarely preserved the fleece, as their 
domestic manufactures consumed but a comparatively 
small quantity. 

But the ganado menor, or small beasts of pasture (that is, 
sheep and goats in general), have of late been very much 
reduced in quantity; having suffered to a deplorable extent 
from the frequent inroads of the aboriginal 'lords of the 
soil, ' who, every now and then, whenever hunger or caprice 
prompts them, attack the ranchos, murder the shepherds, 
and drive the sheep away in flocks of thousands. Indeed, 
the Indians have been heard to observe, that they would 
long before this have destroyed every sheep in the country, 
but that they prefer leaving a few behind for breeding pur- 
poses, in order that their Mexican shepherds may raise them 
new supplies ! 

The sheep of New Mexico are exceedingly smaU, with 
very coarse wool, and scarcely fit for anything else than 
mutton, for which, indeed, they are justly celebrated. Their 
flesh has a peculiarly delicious flavor, and is reckoned by 
epicures to be far superior to our best [191] venison; owing 
probably in part to the excellence of the grass upon which 
they feed. The flesh of the sheep is to the New Mexican 
what that of the hog is to the people of our Western States, 
— while pork is but seldom met with in Northern Mexico. 
The sheep there are also remarkable for horny appendages, 
which frequently branch out in double or triple pairs, giving 
the head a very whimsical and grotesque appearance. I 
have seen some of them with at least six separate horns, 
each pointing in a different direction. 

Although the raising of goats has not been made so much 
of a business as the raising of sheep, the former are never- 
theless to be found in great abundance. Their milk is 

1831-1839] G^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 325 

much more generally used than that of the cow, not only 
because it is sweeter and richer, but because the goat, like 
the hurro, sustains itself upon the mere rubbish that grows 
in the mountain passes, and on the most barren hills, where 
cows could not exist without being regularly fed. The 
flesh of the goat is coarse, but wholesome, and being cheaper 
than mutton or beef, it is very freely used by the poor. 
That of the kid is hardly surpassed for delicacy and sweet- 

With regard to domestic ]owls^ it may be worthy of remark, 
that there is not to be found, as I believe, in all New Mexico, 
a single species (saving half a dozen turkeys perhaps, and 
a few pigeons), except the common hen, of which, however, 
there is a sufl&cient [192] abundance. The goose, the duck, 
the peacock, etc., are altogether unknown. 

Of wild animals there is not so great a variety as in the 
southern districts of the republic, where they are found in 
such abundance. The hlack and grizzly bear, which are 
met with in the mountains, do not appear to possess the 
great degree of ferocity, however, for which the latter es- 
pecially is so much famed further north. It is true they 
sometimes descend from the mountains into the corn-fields, 
and wonderful stories are told of dreadful combats between 
them and the labradores; but judging from a little adventure 
I once witnessed, with an old female of the grizzly species, 
encountered by a party of us along the borders of the great 
prairies, I am not disposed to consider either their ferocity 
or their boldness very terrible. 

Our company had just halted at noon, to take refresh- 
ments, when we perceived a group of these interesting 
animals, — a dam with a few cubs fully as large as common 
wolves, — busily scratching among the high grass in an 
adjacent valley, as if in search of roots or insects. Some of 
our party immediately started after the brutes, in hopes of 

326 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

getting a shot at them, in which, however, they were dis- 
appointed. One or two 'runners,' who had followed on 
horseback, then made a desperate charge upon the enemy, 
but the old monster fled to the thickets, without even so 
much as turning once upon her pursuers, although one of 
her cubs was killed, and the remainder [193] were scattered 
in different directions, during the general scamper. 

The sequel of the adventure served to confirm me in the 
opinion I had of the exaggerated stories in regard to these 
much dreaded animals. We had in our company a giant 
blacksmith and general repairer of wagons, named Camp- 
bell, who measured full six feet eight in his stockings, and 
was besides, elegantly proportioned. Independently of his 
universal utility as ' Jack-of-all-trades,' our colossal friend 
was in such constant requisition, that he might well have 
given origin to the western phrase of one's being 'a whole 
team;' for if a wagon happened to be in the mire, he was 
worth more than the whole team to extract it. He was, in 
short, the most appropriate subject for a regular grizzly- 
bear scrape. On the occasion I speak of, Campbell had 
laid himself down under the shade of a bush, upon the brink 
of a precipice about ten feet high, and was taking a com- 
fortable snooze, while his companions were sporting in the 
neighborhood. During the chase, one of the young bears, 
which had been scared from its mother, was perceived loping 
down the trail towards our camp, apparently heedless of the 
company. Several of us seized our guns, and as it sprang 
across the ravine through a break near the spot where 
Campbell lay, we gave it a salute, which caused it to tumble 
back wounded into the branch, with a frightful yell. Camp- 
bell being suddenly roused by the noise, started up v/ith the 
rapidity of lightning, and [194] tumbled over the precipice 
upon the bear. "Whauh!" growled master bruin — "Mur- 
der!" screamed the giant — "Clinch it, Campbell, or you're 

183 1 -1 839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 327 

gone!" exclaimed his comrades; for no one could venture 
to shoot for fear of killing the man. The latter, however, 
had no notion of closing clutches with his long-clawed 
antagonist, but busied himself in vain attempts to clamber 
up the steep bank; while the bear rising upon his hinder legs, 
and staring a moment at the huge frame of the blacksmith, 
soon made up his mind as to the expediency of 'turning 
tail,' and finally succeeded in making his escape, notwith- 
standing a volley of shot that were fired after him. 

The large gray wolj of the Prairies is also to be found in 
great abundance in Northern Mexico. '^^ They sometimes 
make dreadful havoc among the cattle, frequently killing and 
devouring even mules and horses; but they never extend 
their rapacity so far as to attack human beings, unless urged 
by starvation. There are other animals of prey about the 
mountains, among which the panther is most conspicuous. 

Elk and deer are also to be met with, but not in large 
quantities. Of the latter, the species known as the black- 
tailed deer is the most remarkable. It differs but little from 
the common buck, except that it is of darker color and its 
tail is bordered with black, and that, though its legs are 
shorter, its body is larger. The camera cimarron or bighorn 
of [195] the Rocky Mountains — the berrendo or antelope 
and the tuza or prairie dog of the plains — hares, polecats, 
and other animals of lesser importance, may also be con- 
sidered as denizens of these regions.^" 

Of wild birds, the water fowls are the most numerous; the 

"' The large grey wolf of the prairies is Canis lupus occidentalis. — Ed. 

*^' The black-tailed, or mule deer {Cariacus macrotis), is one of the largest of 
the species in North America, and is confined to the western part of the continent. 
The Bighorn, or Rocky Mountain sheep {Ovis Montana), is sometimes called 
argal. The antelope (Antilocapra americana) is a distinct species. The prairie 
dog is Cynomys ludovicianus, a kind of marmot. All the above animals were 
first described by Lewis and Clark; see Thwaites, Original Journals of the Lewis 
and Clark Expedition, index. Gregg here gives the Spanish or New Mexican 
names for these animals. — Ed. 

328 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

ponds and rivers being literally lined at certain seasons of the 
year with myriads of geese, ducks, cranes, etc. In some of 
the mountains, wild turkeys are very numerous; but par- 
tridges and quails are scarce. There is to be found in Chi- 
huahua and other southern districts a very beautiful bird 
called paisano (literally 'countryman'), which, when domes- 
ticated, performs all the offices of a cat in ridding the dwell- 
ing-houses of mice and other vermin. It is also said to kill 
and devour the rattlesnake ; a reptile, however, which seems 
much less vicious here than elsewhere. Scorpions, taran- 
tulas and centipedes also, although found in this province, 
are almost harmless, and very little dreaded by the natives. 
Another indigenous reptile is the horned-frog of the 
Prairies, known here by the name of camaleon (or chame- 
leon), of which it is probably a species, as its color has 
been observed to vary a little in accordance with the char- 
acter of the soil it inhabits."* 

The honey-bee would appear to have originated exclusively 
from the east, as its march has been observed westward, but 
none have yet reached this portion of the Mexican dominion. 
According to ancient historians, different species were in- 
digenous to the south of [196] the republic; but in the 
north, the only insect of the kind more resembles the bum- 
ble-bee than that of our hives; and builds in rocks and 
holes in the ground, in some parts of the mountains. They 
unite in but small numbers (some dozens together), and sel- 
dom make over a few ounces of honey, which is said, 
however, to be of agreeable flavor. 

As to flies, like the high plains, this dry climate is but little 
infested — particularly with the more noxious kinds. Fresh 
meats are preserved and dried in mid-summer without 

"' The paisano is the chaparral cock (Geococcyx calijornianus or affinis). 
The homed frog is a lizard of the Phrynosoma genus. There are eight or nine 
species in our Southwestern states. — Ed. 

183 1- 1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 329 

difficulty, as there are very few blow-flies. Horse-flies are 
not seen except sometimes in the mountains: the prairie-fly, 
so tormenting to stock with us in the West, is unknown. 


Condition of the Arts and Sciences in New Mexico — Neglect of Educa- 
tion — Primary Schools — Geographical Ignorance — Female Ac- 
complishments — Imported Refinements — Peculiarities of Language, 
etc. — Condition of the Public Press — State of Medical Science — 
The Mechanical Arts — Carpentry and Cabinet Work — State of 
Architecture — Dwelling Houses and their Peculiarities — Rustic 
Furniture — Curiously constructed Vehicles — Manufacture of 
Blankets — Other Fabrics — Want of Machinery. 

There is no part of the civilized globe, perhaps, where the 
Arts have been so much neglected, and the progress of 
Science so successfully impeded as in New Mexico. Read- 
ing and writing may fairly be set down as the highest branches 
of education that are taught in the schools; for those pedants 
who occasionally pretend to teach arithmetic, very seldom 
understand even the primary rules of the science of numbers. 
I should perhaps make an exception in favor of those ecclesi- 
astics, who have acquired their education abroad ; and who, 
from their vocation, are necessarily obliged to possess a 
smattering of Latin. Yet it is a well known fact that the 
majority of this privileged class, even, are lamentably defi- 
cient in the more important [198] branches of familiar science. 
I have been assured by a highly respectable foreigner, who 
has long resided in the country, that the questions were once 
deliberately put to him by a curate — whether Napoleon 
and Washington were not one and the same person, and 
whether Europe was not a province of Spain ! 

From the earliest time down to the secession of the colonies, 
it was always the policy of the Spanish Government as well 
as of the papal hierarchy, to keep every avenue of knowledge 
closed against their subjects of the New World ; lest the lights 
of civil and religious liberty should reach them from their 

3 30 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

neighbors of the North. Although a system of public schools 
was afterwards adopted by the republic, which, if persevered 
in, would no doubt have contributed to the dissemination of 
useful knowledge, yet its operations had to be suspended 
about ten years ago, for want of the necessary funds to carry 
out the original project. ^^' It is doubtful, however, whether 
the habitual neglect and utter carelessness of the people, 
already too much inured to grope their way in darkness and 
in ignorance, added to the inefficiency of the teachers, would 
not eventually have neutralized all the good that such an 
institution was calculated to effect. The only schools now 
in existence, are of the lowest primary class, supported 
entirely by individual patronage, the liberal extension of 
which, may be inferred from the fact, that at least three- 
fourths of the present population can neither read nor write. 
[199] To illustrate the utter absence of geographical infor- 
mation among the humbler classes, it is only necessary to 
mention that I have been asked by persons, who have 
enjoyed a long intercourse with Americans, whether the 
United States was as large a place as the town of Santa Fe ! 
Female education has, if possible, been more universally 
neglected than that of the other sex; while those who have 
received any instruction at all, have generally been taught 
in private families. Indeed, until very lately, to be able to 
read and write on the part of a woman, was considered an 
indication of very extraordinary talent; and the fair damsel 
who could pen a billet-doux to her lover, was looked upon 
as almost a prodigy. There is, however, to be found among 
the higher classes a considerable sprinkling of that superficial 
refinement which is the bane of fashionable society every- 
where, and which consists, not in superiority of understand- 

'^'' H. H. Bancroft, New Mexico and Arizona, p. 341, note 52, gives the glean- 
ings from the archives on these early public schools, for which in 1834 an appeal 
was made for private contributions. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 331 

ing, not in acquired knowledge, but in that peculiar species 
of assumption, which has happily been styled "the flowing 
garment with which Ignorance decks herself." 

Yet, notwithstanding this dreadful state of ignorance on all 
those subjects which it behooves man to be acquainted with, 
it is truly astonishing to notice the correctness with which 
the common people speak their mother tongue, the Spanish. 
The application of words out of their classical sense may 
occasionally occur, but a violation of the simple [200] gram- 
matical rules (which is so common among the illiterate who 
use the English language), is extremely rare. In pronuncia- 
tion, the only material difference between them and the 
Castilian race, consists in the adoption of certain provin- 
cialisms, which can hardly be ranked as defects. Thus, 
instead of giving c before e and i, and z in all cases, the 
Castilian lisp of th as in thin, they sound both like s in sin] 
and instead of pronouncing // as the Italian liquid gl in 
seraglio, they sound this double letter precisely like y in yes\ 
and in writing, frequently confound the // and y indiscrimi- 
nately together. These may be considered as their only 
peculiarities of pronunciation, and they prevail through 
most sections of the republic. In fact, this point of difference 
is looked upon by many with national pride, as distinguish- 
ing their language from that of their former oppressors. 
They have also adopted many significant Indian words from 
their aboriginal predecessors and neighbors, which serve 
to embellish and amplify this already beautiful and copious 

In nothing is the deplorable state of things already noticed 
made more clearly manifest, than in the absence of a public 
press. There has never been a single newspaper or periodi- 
cal of any kind published in New Mexico, except in the year 
1834, when a little foolscap sheet (entitled El Crepusculo) 
was issued weekly, for about a month, to the tune of fifty 

222 Ear/y JVe stern Travels [Vol. 19 

subscribers, and was then abandoned, partially for want of 
patronage and partially because [201] the editor had accom- 
plished his object of procuring his election to Congress.**" 
Indeed, the only printing press in the country is a small affair 
which was brought the same year across the prairies from 
the United States, and is now employed occasionally in 
printing billets, primers and Catholic catechisms. This 
literary negligence is to be attributed, not more to the limited 
number of reading people, than to those injudicious restric- 
tions upon that freedom of the press, which is so essential 
to its prosperity. An editor attempting to arraign the con- 
duct of public functionaries, or to oppose 'the powers that 
be,' is sure to subject himself to persecution, and most 
probably suspension, a tyrannical course of proceeding 
which has checked the career of two or three papers even 
among the more enlightened inhabitants of Chihuahua; 
where a miserable organ of the Government is still occasion- 
ally issued from the office of the Imprenta del Gobierno, or 
Government Press. No wonder then that the people of 
Northern Mexico are so much behind their neighbors of the 
United States in intelligence, and that the pulse of national 
industry and liberty beats so low! 

Medical science is laboring under similar disadvantages; 
there being not a single native physician in the province;"* 
although a great multitude of singular cures are daily per- 
formed with indigenous roots and herbs that grow [202] in 
abundance all over the country. But lest a knowledge of 
this scarcity of doctors should induce some of the Esculapian 
faculty to strike for Santa Fe in quest of fortune, I would 
remark that the country affords very poor patronage.*" 

^*° Bancroft says {op. cit. p. 34) that the editor of El Crepusculo was Padre 
Martinez, and that a newspaper of 1876 notes the death of a New Mexican who 
had been a printer thereon. — Ed. 

'*' Neither is there a professed lawyer in New Mexico: a fact which at least 
speaks favorably of the state of Htigation in the country. — Gregg. 

'^ But see the tour of Dr. Willard, noted in our volume xviii, pp. 325-364. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg s Commerce of the Prairies 333 

Foreign physicians who have visited New Mexico, have 
found the practice quite unprofitable ; not more for the want 
of patients, than on account of the poverty of the people. 
Nine-tenths of those who are most subject to disease, are 
generally so destitute of means, that the only return they can 
make, is, ^'Dios se la pague^'' (May God pay you!) Even 
the more affluent classes do not hesitate sometimes to liqui- 
date their bills in the same currency. A French doctor of 
Santa Fe, who had been favored with too many payments 
of this description, was wont to rebuke their ^'Dios se la 
pague^^ with a '^No, senor, su bolsa me lopagard^^ — No, sir, 
your pocket shall pay me! 

The mechanical arts have scarcely risen above the con- 
dition they were found in among the aborigines. Gold and 
silversmiths are perhaps better skilled in their respective 
trades than any other class of artisans whatever; as the 
abundance of precious metals in former days, and the ruling 
passion of the people for ostentatious show, gave a very 
early stimulus to the exercise of this peculiar talent. Some 
mechanics of this class have produced such singular speci- 
mens of ingenious workmanship, that on examining them, 
we are almost unwilling to believe that rude art could accom- 
plish [203] so much. Even a bridle-bit or a pair of spurs 
it would no doubt puzzle the 'cutest' Yankee to fashion 
after a Mexican model — such as I have seen manufactured 
by the commonest blacksmiths of the country. 

In carpentry and cabinet-work the mechanic has to labor 
to great disadvantage, on account of a want of tools and 
scarcity of suitable timber. Their boards have to be hewed 
out with the axe — sawed lumber being absolutely unknown 
throughout New Mexico, except what is occasionally cut by 
foreigners. The axe commonly used for splitting and hew- 
ing is formed after the model of those clumsy hatchets known 
as 'squaw-axes' among Indian traders. Yet this is not 
unfrequently the only tool of the worker in wood: a cart or 

334 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

a plough is often manufactured without even an auger, a 
chisel, or a drawing-knife. 

In architecture, the people do not seem to have arrived at 
any great perfection, but rather to have conformed them- 
selves to the clumsy style which prevailed among the abo- 
rigines, than to waste their time in studying modern masonry 
and the use of lime. The materials generally used for build- 
ing are of the crudest possible description; consisting of 
unburnt bricks, about eighteen inches long by nine wide 
and four thick, laid in mortar of mere clay and sand. These 
bricks are called adobes, and every edifice, from the church 
to the palacio, is constructed of the same stuff. In fact, I 
should remark, perhaps, that though all [204] Southern 
Mexico is celebrated for the magnificence and wealth of its 
churches. New Mexico deserves equal fame for poverty- 
stricken and shabby-looking houses of public worship. 

The general plan of the Mexican dwellings is nearly the 
same everywhere. Whether from motives of pride, or fear 
of the savages, the wealthier classes have adopted the style 
of Moorish castles; so that all the larger buildings have more 
the appearance of so many diminutive fortifications, than 
of private famUy residences. Let me add, however, that 
whatever may be the roughness of their exterior, they are 
extremely comfortable inside. A tier of rooms on each side 
of a square, comprising as many as the convenience of the 
occupant may require, encompass an open patio or court, 
with but one door opening into the street, — a huge gate, 
called la puerta del zaguan, usually large enough to admit 
the family coach. The back tier is generally occupied with 
the cocina, dispensa, granero (kitchen, provision-store, and 
granary), and other offices of the same kind. Most of 
the apartments, except the winter rooms, open into the 
patio; but the latter are most frequently entered through 
the sala or hall, which, added to the thickness of their walls 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 335 

and roofs, renders them delightfully warm during the cold 
season, while they are perfectly cool and agreeable in sum- 
mer. In fact, hemmed in as these apartments are with 
nearly three feet of earth, they may be said to possess all the 
pleasant [205] properties of cellars, with a freer circulation 
of air, and nothing of the dampness which is apt to pervade 
those subterranean regions. 

The roofs of the houses are all flat azaleas or terraces, 
being formed of a layer of earth two or three feet in thick- 
ness, and supported by stout joists or horizontal rafters. 
These roofs, when well packed, turn the rain off with re- 
markable effect, and render the houses nearly fire-proof."^ 
The azalea also forms a pleasant promenade, the surrounding 
walls rising usually so high as to serve for a balustrade, as 
also a breast-work, behind which, in times of trouble, the 
combatants take their station, and defend the premises. 

The floors are all constructed of beaten earth 'slicked 
over' with soft mortar, and covered generally with a coarse 
carpet of domestic manufacture. A plank floor would be 
quite a curiosity in New Mexico; nor have I met with one 
even in Chihuahua, although the best houses in that city 
are floored with brick or squares of hewn stone. The 
interior of each apartment is roughly plastered over with a 
clay mortar unmixed with lime, by females who supply the 
place of trowels with their hands. It is then white washed 
with [206] calcined yeso or gypsum, a deleterious stuff, that 
is always sure to engraft its affections upon the clothing of 
those who come in contact with it. To obviate this, the 
parlors and family rooms are usually lined with waU-paper 

^^ During a residence of nearly nine years in the country, I never witnessed but 
one fire, and that was in the mining town of Jesus Maria. There a roof of pine 
clap-boards is usually extended over the azotea, to protect it against the mountain 
torrents of rain. This roof was consumed, but the principal damage sustained, 
in addition, was the burning of a huge pile of com and some bags of flour, which 
were in the garret: the body of the building remained nearly in statu quo. — Gregg. 

336 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

or calico, to the height of five or six feet. The front of the 
house is commonly plastered in a similar manner, although 
not always white- washed. In the suburbs of the towns, and 
particularly in the villages and ranchos, a fantastic custom 
prevails of painting only a portion of the fronts of the houses, 
in the shape of stripes, which imparts to the landscape a 
very striking and picturesque appearance. 

Wood buildings of any kind or shape are utterly unknown 
in the north of Mexico, with the exception of an occasional 
picket-hut in some of the ranchos and mining-places. It 
will readily be perceived, then, what a flat and uncouth 
appearance the towns of New Mexico present, with houses 
that look more like so many collections of brick-kilns pre- 
pared for burning than human abodes. 

The houses of the villages and ranchos are rarely so spa- 
cious as those of the capital, yet their construction is much the 
same. Some very singular subterrene dwellings are to be 
found in a few places. I was once passing through the 
village of Casa Colorada,"^ when I observed some noisy 
urchins just before me, who very suddenly and mysteriously 
disappeared. Upon resorting to the spot, I perceived an 
aperture under a hillock, which, albeit considerably larger, 
was not very [207] unlike the habitations of the little prairie 

The immense expense attending the purchase of suitable 
furniture and kitchen-ware, indeed, the frequent impossibility 
of obtaining these articles at any price, caused the early 
settlers of Northern Mexico to resort to inventions of neces- 
sity, or to adopt Indian customs altogether, many of which 
have been found so comfortable and convenient, that most 
of those who are now able to indulge in luxuries, feel but 

'** Casa Colorado is now a precinct of Valencia County, east of the Rio Grande, 
about forty miles below Albuquerque. It was formerly a small village. For a 
description of a visit en route to Abo and Gran Quivira, see account of Major 
Carleton in Smithsonian Institution Report, 1854, pp. 296-316. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 337 

little inclination to introduce any change. Even the few 
pine-board chairs and settees that are to be found about the 
houses are seldom used; the prevailing fashion being to 
fold mattrasses against the walls, which, being covered over 
with blankets, are thus converted into sofas. Females, 
indeed, most usually prefer accommodating themselves, a 
Vhidienne, upon a mere blanket spread simply upon the 

Wagons of Mexican manufacture are not to be found; 
although a small number of American-built vehicles, of 
those introduced by the trading caravans, have grown into 
use among the people. ^*^ Nothing is more calculated to 
attract the curiosity of strangers than the unwieldy carretas 
or carts of domestic construction, the massive wheels of which 
are generally hewed out of a large cotton wood. This, how- 
ever, being rarely of sufficient size to form the usual diameter, 
which is about five feet, an additional segment or felloe is 
pinned upon each edge, when the [208] whole is fashioned 
into an irregular circle. A crude pine or cottonwood pole 
serves for the axle-tree, upon which is tied a rough frame of 
the same material for a body. In the construction of these 
carretas the use of iron is, for the most part, wholly dispensed 
with; in fact, nothing is more common than a cart, a plow, 
and even a mill, without a particle of iron or other metal 
about them. To this huge truckle it is necessary to hitch 
at least three or four yokes of oxen; for even a team of six 
would find it difficult to draw the load of a single pair with 
an ordinary cart. The labor of the oxen is much increased 
by the Mexican mode of harnessing, which appears peculiarly 
odd to a Yankee. A rough pole serves for a yoke, and, with 
the middle tied to the cart-tongue, the extremities are placed 

'" The Missouri Intelligencer for February i8, 1823, cited by Chittenden, 
Fur-Trade, ii, p. 504, stated that Becknell received seven hundred dollars for a 
wagon in Santa Fe, that had cost him one hundred and fifty dollars. — Ed. 

338 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

across the heads of the oxen behind the horns, to which they 
are firmly lashed with a stout rawhide thong. Thus the 
head is maintained in a fixed position, and they pull, or 
rather push by the force of the neck, which, of course, is 
kept continually strained upwards. 

Rough and uncouth as these carretas always are, they con- 
stitute nevertheless the 'pleasure-carriages' of the rancheros, 
whose families are conveyed in them to the towns, whether 
to market, or to fiestas, or on other joyful occasions. It is 
truly amusing to see these rude vehicles bouncing along upon 
their irregularly rounded wheels, like a limping bullock, and 
making the hills and valleys [209] around vocal with the 
echo of their creaking and frightful sounds. 

The New Mexicans are celebrated for the manufacture of 
coarse blankets, which is an article of considerable traffic 
between them and the southern provinces, as also with the 
neighboring Indians, and on some occasions with the United 
States. The finer articles are curiously woven in handsome 
figures of various colors. These are of different qualities, 
the most ordinary being valued at about two dollars apiece, 
while those of the finest texture, especially their imitations 
of the Sarape Navajo, will sell for twenty dollars or more. 
There have also been made in New Mexico a few imitations 
of the Sarape Saltillero, — the blanket of Saltillo, a city of the 
south celebrated for the manufacture of the most splendid 
fancy blankets, singularly figured with all the colors of the 
rainbow. These are often sold for more than fifty dollars 
each. What renders the weaving of the fancy blankets 
extremely tedious, is, that the variegation of colors is all 
effected with the shuttle, the texture in other respects being 
perfectly plain, without even a twill. An additional value 
is set upon the fine sarape on account of its being a fashion- 
able substitute for a cloak. Indeed, the inferior sarape is 
the only overdress used by the peasantry in the winter. 

Besides blankets, the New Mexicans manufacture a kind 

1831-1839I Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 339 

of coarse twilled woollen stuff, called gerga, which is check- 
ered with black and white, and is used for carpets, and also 
[210] by the peasantry for clothing, which, in fact, with 
some other similar domestic stuffs, together with buckskin, 
constituted almost the only article of wear they were pos- 
sessed of, till the trade from Missouri furnished them with 
foreign fabrics at more reasonable prices than they had been 
in the habit of paying to the traders of the southern prov- 
inces. Their domestic textures are nearly all of wool, 
there being no flax or hemp"^ and but little cotton spun. 
The manufacture even of these articles is greatly embarrassed 
for want of good spinning and weaving machinery. Much 
of the spinning is done with the huso or malacate (the whirli- 
gig spindle), which is kept whirling in a bowl with the fin- 
gers while the thread is drawn. The dexterity with which 
the females spin with this simple apparatus is truly aston- 


Style of Dress in New Mexico — Riding-dress of the Caballero — 
Horse Trappings — The Rebozo — Passion for Jeweky — Apparel 
of the Female Peasantry — ' Wheeled Tarantulas ' — General Appear- 
ance of the People — Tawny Complexion — Singular Mode of 
Painting the Human Face — Striking Traits of Character — Alms- 
giving — Beggars and their Tricks — Wonderful Cure of Paralysis 

— Lack of Arms and Officers — Traits of Boldness among the 
Yeomanry — Politeness and Suavity of the Mexicans — Remarks 
of Mr. Poinsett — PecuUarities observed in epistolary Intercourse 

— Salutations — La Siesta. 

The best society in the interior of New Mexico is fast 
conforming to European fashion, in the article of dress, with 
the exception of the peculiar riding costume, which is still 

^^ Hemp is unknown in this province, and flax, as has before been remarked, 
though indigenous, is nowhere cuhivated. "The court of Spain (as Clavigero tells 
us, speaking of Michuacan, New Mexico, and Quivira, where he says flax was to 
be found in great abundance), informed of the regions adapted to the cultivation of 
this plant, sent to those countries, about the year 1778, twelve families from the 
valley of Granada, for the purpose of promoting so important a branch of agricul- 
ture." The enterprise seems never to have been prosecuted, however — at least 
in New Mexico. — Gregg. 

340 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

worn by many caballeros. This generally consists of a 
sombrero — a peculiarly shaped low crowned hat with wide 
brim, covered with oil-cloth and surmounted with a band 
of tinsel cord nearly an inch in diameter: a chaqueta or 
jacket of cloth gaudily embroidered with braid and fancy 
barrel-buttons: a curiously shaped article called calzoneras, 
intended for pantaloons, with the outer part of the legs open 
from hip to ankle — the borders set with tinkling filigree 
buttons, and the whole fantastically trimmed with tinsel lace 
and cords of the [212] same materials. As suspenders do 
not form a component part of a regular Mexican costume, 
the nether garment is supported by a rich sash which is 
drawn very tightly around the body, and contributes materi- 
ally to render the whole appearance of the cahallero extremely 
picturesque. Then there are the hotas which somewhat 
resemble the leggins worn by the bandits of Italy, and are 
made of embossed leather, embroidered with fancy silk and 
tinsel thread and bound around the knee with curiously 
tasselled garters. The sarape saltillero (a fancy blanket) 
completes the picture. This peculiarly useful as well as 
ornamental garment is commonly carried dangling carelessly 
across the pommel of the saddle, except in bad weather, 
when it is drawn over the shoulders, after the manner of a 
Spanish cloak, or as is more frequently the case, the rider 
puts his head through a slit in the middle, and by letting it 
hang loosely from the neck, his whole person is thus effectu- 
ally protected. 

The steed of the caballero is caparisoned in the same 
pompous manner, the whole of the saddle trappings weighing 
sometimes over a hundred pounds. First of all we have the 
high pommel of the saddle-tree crowned with silver, and the 
' hinder tree ' garnished with the same, and a quilted cushion 
adjusted to the seat. The coraza is a cover of embossed 
leather embroidered with fancy silk and tinsel, with orna- 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 341 

ments of silver, and is thrown loose over the cushion and 
]ust€ or saddle-tree, the [213] extremities of which protrude 
through appropriate apertures. Then comes the cola de 
pato, literally Muck's tail' (it were more appropriately called 
'peacock's tail'), a sort of leathern housing, also gaudily 
ornamented to correspond with the coraza, attached to the 
hind-tree, and covering the entire haunches of the animal. 
The estribos or stirrups are usually made either of bent or 
mortised wood, fancifully carved, over which are fastened 
the tapaderas or coverings of leather to protect the toes. 
Formerly the stirrups constituted a complete slipper, mor- 
tised in a solid block of wood, which superseded the use of 
tapaderas. But one of the most costly articles of the saddle- 
suit is perhaps the bridle, which is sometimes of entire silver, 
or otherwise heavily ornamented with silver buckles, slides 
and stars. To this [214] is appended a massive bit, some- 
times of pure silver, but more commonly of iron, most 
singularly wrought. The spurs are generally of iron, though 
silver spurs are very frequent. The shanks of the vaquero 
spurs are three to five inches long, with rowels sometimes 
six inches in diameter. I have in my possession a pair of 
these measuring over ten inches from one extremity to an- 
other, with rowels five and three-fourths inches in diameter, 
weighing two pounds and eleven ounces. Last, not least, 
there are the armas de pelo, being a pair of shaggy goat 
skins (richly trimmed across the top with embroidered 
leather), dangling from the pommel of the saddle for the 
purpose of being drawn over the legs in case of rain, or as 
a protection against brush and brambles. The corazas of 
travelling saddles are also provided with several pockets 
called coginillos — a most excellent contrivance for car- 
rying a lunch or bottle, or anything to which convenient ac- 
cess may be desired. 

In former times there was a kind of harness of leather 

342 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

attached to the saddle behind, covering the hinder parts of 
the horse as low as mid-thighs, with its lower border com- 
pletely fringed with jingling iron tags, but these are now 
seldom met with in the North. Even without this noisy 
appendage, however, a Mexican caballero of the present day, 
with full equestrian rigging, his clink and his rattle, makes 
altogether a very remarkable appearance. 

Though the foregoing description refers particularly 
[215] to the chivalrous caballero of the South — the rico of 
the country, yet similar modes of costume and equipage, but 
of coarser material, are used by the lower classes. Nor are 
they restricted among these to the riding-dress, but are very 
generally worn as ordinary apparel. Common velveteens, 
fustians, blue drillings and similar stuffs, are very much in 
fashion among such rancheros and villageois as are able to 
wear anything above the ordinary woollen manufactures of 
the country. Coarse wool hats, or of palm-leaf (sombreros 
de petate), all of low crowns, are the kind generally worn by 
the common people. 

As I have already observed, among the better classes the 
European dress is now frequently worn; although they are 
generally a year or two behind our latest fashions. The 
ladies, however, never wear either hat, cap or bonnet, 
except for riding; but in lieu of it, especially when they 
walk abroad, the rehozo (or scarf), or a large shawl, is drawn 
over the head. The rehozo is by far the most fashionable: 
it is seven or eight feet in length by nearly a yard in width, 
and is made of divers stuffs — silk, linen or cotton, and 
usually variegated and figured in the warp by symmetrically 
disposed threads waved in the dying. It is certainly a 
beautiful specimen of domestic manufacture. The finest 
articles are valued at fifty to a hundred dollars in the North; 
but the ordinary cotton rehozo ranges at from one to five 
dollars, and is generally [216] worn by the lower classes. A 

1831-1839] G^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 343 

Mexican female is scarcely ever seen without her rebozo or 
shawl, except when it is laid aside for the dance. In-doors, 
it is loosely thrown about her person, but in the promenade 
it is coquettishly drawn over the head, and one end of it 
brought round, and gracefully hooked over the opposite 
shoulder. As a favorite modern authoress justly remarks, 
however, in speaking of the rebozo and the sarape, an im- 
portant objection to their use, in this unsettled society, is 
the facility they afford for the concealment of the person, 
as well as secret weapons of the wearer. Pistols, knives, 
and even swords are carried unsuspected under the sarape, 
while a lady fashionably muffled with a rebozo, may pass a 
crowd of familiar acquaintances without being recognized. 

The ordinary apparel of the female peasantry and the 
rancheras, is the enaguas or petticoat of home-made flannel; 
or, when they are able to procure it, of coarse blue or scarlet 
cloth, connected to a wide list of some contrasting-colored 
stuff, bound around the waist over a loose white chemise, 
which is the only covering for the body, except the rebozo. 
Uncouth as this costume may appear at first, it constitutes 
nevertheless a very graceful sort of undress — in which 
capacity it is used even by ladies of rank. 

The New Mexican ladies are all passionately fond of 
jewelry; and they may commonly be seen, with their necks, 
arms and fingers loaded with massive appendages of a 
valuable [217] description. But as there has been so much 
imposition with regard to foreign jewelry, articles of native 
manufacture, some of which are admirably executed, with- 
out alloy or counterfeit, are generally preferred. 

In New Mexico, caches de paseo of any kind are very rare ; 
occasionally, however, one of those huge, clumsy, old- 
fashioned vehicles of Mexican manufacture, so abundant 
in the southern cities, and often nick-named 'wheeled 
tarantulas,' by strangers, may be seen. Such an apparition 

344 Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

in a Yankee city would excite as much curiosity as a caravan 
of the rarest animals. The coach alone is a load for two 
mules, therefore the vehicle is usually drawn by four and 
sometimes six, and invariably driven by postillions. 

The stature of both sexes in New Mexico is commonly 
below medium: but they are mostly well proportioned, of 
athletic make, and sound, healthy constitutions. Their 
complexion is generally dark; but every variety of shade is 
found among them, from the lightest European tint to the 
swarthiest hue. Their darkness has resulted partly from 
their original Moorish blood, but more from inter- marriages 
with the aborigines. An occasional Indian, and sometimes 
an entire village, have abandoned their wonted seclusion, and 
become identified with their conquerors. In the North, the 
system of Indian slavery has contributed still more to the 
same result. They buy the captive children of both sexes 
of the wild tribes, taken prisoners among each other, [218] 
or by the Pueblos in their petty wars with the former — and 
indeed by the Mexicans themselves — who are generally held 
in bondage to the age of twenty-one years, and some, from 
ignorance, their whole lives. Such as resume their liberty, 
intermarry with the race of their masters, becoming Mexican 
citizens, often undistinguishable from many of the already 
dark-hued natives."^ The present race of New Mexicans 
has thus become an amalgam, averaging about equal parts 
of the European and aboriginal blood. The peasantry, as 
weU from a more general intermixture with the Indian, as 
from exposure, are the darkest; yet the tawny complexion 
pervades all classes — the rich as well as the poor. 

The females, although many of them are about as broad- 
featured as the veriest Indian, not unfrequently possess 
striking traits of beauty. They are remarkable for small 

^*' Slavery was abolished in Mexico by an act of September 15, 1829, reinforced 
by a second decree in 1837. — Ed. 

1831-1839] G^^SS^ Commerce of the Prairies 345 

feet and handsome figures, notwithstanding their profound 
ignorance of the 'refined art' of lacing. The belles of the 
ranchos and villages have a disgusting habit of besmearing 
their faces with the crimson juice of a plant or fruit called 
alegria, which is not unlike blood; as also with clay and 
starch. This is not intended, as some travellers have sup- 
posed, as a beautifying appendage, but for the purpose of 
protecting the skin from the sun. A country beauty will 
often remain in this filthy condition for a whole fortnight, in 
order to appear to advantage at some favorite feast or ball; 
when, by washing off the paint, the [219] cheeks look as fresh 
and ruddy as the natural darkness of their skin will permit. 

The New Mexicans appear to have inherited much of the 
cruelty and intolerance of their ancestors, and no small por- 
tion of their bigotry and fanaticism. Being of a highly 
imaginative temperament and of rather accommodating 
moral principles — cunning, loquacious, quick of perception 
and sycophantic, their conversation frequently exhibits a 
degree of tact — a false glare of talent, eminently calculated 
to mislead and impose. They have no stability except in 
artifice; no profundity except for intrigue: qualities for 
which they have acquired an unenviable celebrity. System- 
atically cringing and subservient while out of power, as soon 
as the august mantle of authority falls upon their shoulders, 
there are but little bounds to their arrogance and vindictive- 
ness of spirit. While such are the general features of the 
character of the Northern Mexicans, however, I am fain to 
believe and acknowledge, that there are to be found among 
them numerous instances of uncompromising virtue, good 
faith and religious forbearance. 

But taking the Northern Mexicans without distinction of 
class or degree, there is scarcely a race of people on the face 
of the earth more alive to the dictates of charity — that is, 
alms-giving; which is more owing perhaps to the force of 

34^ Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

religious instruction than to real sympathy for the sufferings 
of the indigent and the helpless. The law making no pro- 
vision [220] for paupers, there is no country perhaps more 
infested with beggars, especially from Chihuahua south. 
In the large cities, Saturday is the alms-giving day by custom; 
and on such occasions the limosneros (as the mendicant race 
is called), may be seen promenading the streets in gangs of 
thirty or forty, or in smaller numbers, performing genu- 
flections at every nook and comer of the town, each croaking 
aloud his favorite set of orisons and inviting the blessings of 
heaven upon every man, woman or child, who may have been 
so fortunate as to propitiate the benison by casting a few 
clacos^*^ into his outstretched hand. In some sections of 
the country, this system of begging has proved so successful 
that parents have actually been known to maim and deform 
their children, during the earliest stages of infancy, in order 
to fit them for the trade, and thereby secure to themselves 
a constant source of emolument for the remainder of their 
lives. Persons affecting disease and frequently malforma- 
tion for the purpose of exciting the commiseration of the 
wayfarer, are also extremely numerous. I had often ob- 
served in Chihuahua a robust-looking fellow, who, to all 
appearance, had partially lost the use of his lower extremities, 
sliding about the streets from door to door upon a sort of 
cushion, asking alms. One fine day, a furious bull, pursued 
by some vaqueros, came plunging down in the direction 
where he sat, moaning and grieving most piteously; when, 
forgetting his physical disabilities, he sprang to his feet with 
[221] the agility of a dancing master, and incontinently 
betook himself to his heels. 

The Northern Mexicans have often been branded with 
cowardice : a stigma which may well be allowed to rest upon 

"* A claco (better tlaco) was a coin representing the eighth part of a Mexican 
silver shilling. — Ed. 

1831-1839] ^^^SS'-^ Commerce of the Prairies 347 

the wealthier classes, and the city-bred caballeros, from 
whose ranks are selected the military leaders who decide the 
fate of battles. But the rancheros, or as they might be still 
more appropriately styled — the yeomanry of the country, 
inured as they are from their peculiar mode of life to every 
kind of fatigue and danger, possess a much higher calibre of 
moral courage. Their want of firmness in the field, is par- 
tially the result of their want of confidence in their command- 
ers; while the inefficacy and worthlessness of their weapons 
are alone sufficient to inspire even a valiant heart with dismal 
forebodings. It is true that most of the regular troops are 
provided with English muskets, which, by the way, they are 
generally too ignorant to keep in order; but a great portion 
of the militia are obliged to use the clumsy old-fashioned 
escopepa, or firelock of the sixteenth century ; while others 
have nothing but the bow and arrow, and sometimes the 
lance, which is in fact a weapon very much in use throughout 
the country. I have seen persons of the lower class do things, 
however, which would really seem to indicate a superlative 
degree of courage. Some of them will often perform jour- 
neys alone through wildernesses teeming with murderous 
savages; but as they not unfrequently [222] embark upon 
these perilous jaunts unarmed, it is evident they depend 
greatly upon good luck and swiftness of limbs, and still more 
upon the protection of their favorite saint, la Virgen de 

The Mexicans, like the French, are remarkable for their 
politeness and suavity of manners. You cannot visit a 
friend but he assures you that, '^Estd V. en su casa, y puede 
mandar,^^ etc. (You are in your own house, and can com- 
mand, etc.), or, "Estoy enteramente a su disposicion^^ (I am 
wholly at your disposal), without, however, meaning more 
than an expression of ordinary courtesy. Nor can you speak 
in commendation of any article, let its value be what it may. 

34^ Early Western Travels [Vol. 19 

but the polite owner immediately replies, " Tomelo, V. Senor; 
es suyo^^ (Take it, sir; it is yours), without the slightest in- 
tention or expectation that you should take him at his word. 
— Mr. Poinsett observes,"" "Remember, when you take 
leave of a Spanish grandee, to bow as you leave the room, 
at the head of the stairs, where the host accompanies you; 
and after descending the first flight, turn round and you will 
see him expecting a third salutation, which he returns with 
great courtesy, and remains until you are out of sight; so 
that as you wind down the stairs, if you catch a glimpse of 
him, kiss your hand, and he will think you a most accom- 
plished cavalier." Graphic as this short sketch is, it hardly 
describes the full measure of Mexican politeness; for in that 
country, when the visitor reaches the [223] street, another 
tip of the hat, and another inclination of the head, will be 
expected by the attentive host, who gently waves, with his 
hand, a final ^d dios^ from a window. 

In epistolary correspondence, the ratio of respect is 
generally indicated by the width of the left margin. If the 
letter is addressed to an equal, about one-fourth of the page 
is occupied for that purpose; but when extraordinary re- 
spect is intended to be shown to a superior, nearly one-half 
of the page is left a blank. There are other marks of civility 
and respect peculiar to the country, which among us would 
be accounted absolute servility. 

In their salutations, the ancient custom of close embrace, 

"° Joel R. Poinsett, a South Carolina statesman (1779-1851), had been sent 
by the United States government to study conditions in the revolting Spanish 
colonies in South America, vi^here he participated in the Chilean revolution. Upon 
his return he was for two terms (1821-25) in congress, where he advocated the cause 
of the new South American repubUcs. During that period (1822) he was sent by 
President Monroe on a special mission to Mexico, after which he published Notes 
on Mexico made in 1822 (Philadelphia, 1824) to which Gregg undoubtedly refers. 
Poinsett was minister to Mexico 1825-29; upon his return he became leader of the 
Union party in his native state, in opposition to nulUfication. He was secretary of 
war during Van Buren's administration, and at its close retired from public life, 
save that^be opposed the]Mexican War. — Ed. 

1831-1839] Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies 349 

not only between individuals of the same sex, but between 
those of different sexes, is almost universal. It is quite a 
luxury to meet a pretty seiiorita after some absence. The 
parties approach, shake hands in a cordial manner, and 
without loosening the grasp, the left arm of each is brought 
about the other's waist; and while a gentle embrace brings 
their persons closer to each other, the contact of the cheeks 
becomes inevitable — without admitting a kiss, however, 
which would be held as decidedly indelicate. In short, it is 
worth while absenting oneself, for the gratification of a first 
meeting with the prettier of one's female friends upon the 

Among the least unpleasant customs of this country is 
that of the siesta or afternoon nap; a species of indulgence 
in which all classes [224] are prone to share. The stores, 
private and public offices, are, by common consent, generally 
closed at one o'clock (that being the usual dinner hour), and 
not reopened till three. During that interval nearly every 
kind of business and labor is suspended. The streets are 
comparatively deserted ; the rich and the poor retire to their 
respective couches, and remain wrapped in slumber, or 
'thinking o' nothing,' till the loud peal of the three o'clock 
bell warns them to resume their occupations. 


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